‘Return of the God Hypothesis’ for Regular People

Dr. Ray Bohlin provides an overview of Stephen Meyer’s book Return of the God Hypothesis, looking at how recent scientific discoveries provide evidence for an intelligent creator.

Was There a God Hypothesis Prior to Scientific Materialism of Today?

Return of the God HypothesisIn this article I give an overview of Stephen Meyer’s Return of The God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe {1}. The three discoveries are first, the discovery in the 20th century of the Big Bang Model for the origin of the universe, second, the continuing discovery of the extreme fine-tuning of a universe that is friendly toward life, and third, the grand amount of genetic and cellular information needed for the origin of the first life and the Cambrian Explosion, where nearly all animal phyla suddenly appear with no ancestors.

download-podcastBut we need to cover a little history first. Meyer’s title is “Return of the God Hypothesis.” This implies that there was previously an accepted “God Hypothesis” in science. Then it was lost, and the time and evidence are right for that God Hypothesis to return. Early, Meyer quotes Richard Dawkins, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”{2} So according to Dawkins, science has shown God to be superfluous.

This has been the position of most scientists since the late 19th century, when two authors detailed a long-standing warfare between science and religion. Most of the scientific community followed along to the present day.

But Meyer goes on to document that most if not all historians of science today agree that the Christian worldview greatly influenced, some say was even necessary for, the rise of modern science. Three key Christian concepts were, first, God’s ability to choose what kind of universe He wanted to create. That meant that we can’t just reason what nature should be like, we had to discover it. Second, nature is intelligible. Humans, being created in the image of God, could discover how nature operates (Romans 1:18-20). And last, human fallibility. Humans are sinful; therefore, one man’s conclusions about the operation of nature must be subject to review of other scientists to ensure they are accurate. Christianity is the only worldview capable of developing modern science.{3}

So, what happened? Well, the Enlightenment happened where philosophers began to think only human reason is necessary or even proper to use in discovering the nature of humanity and nature around us. In the next section, I begin to investigate the three scientific discoveries that warrant a return of the God hypothesis.

Scientific Discovery #1: The Big Bang

The subtitle of Stephen Meyer’s book, Return of the God Hypothesis is “Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe.” Now we will look at the first of these discoveries, the Big Bang.

First, I know that some of our readers don’t accept the concept of the Big Bang since they are convinced that our universe is much younger than 13.7 billion years. I understand your position, [please read my article “Christian Views of Science and Earth History at probe.org/christian-views-of-science-and-earth-history/] but let’s look at this then as an argument you can use with an atheist to show that his own dating of the universe and the Big Bang requires a Mind.

In the early 20th century, scientists like Edwin Hubble began to observe that the universe was not static as previously accepted, but was actually expanding. It took several lines of evidence, more powerful instruments, and many astronomers and mathematicians to come to this conclusion. The novel result was thinking about running the clock backwards. If the universe is expanding now, if you go back in time the universe gets smaller and smaller. Eventually you get to a point where they say the universe was contained in a “particle” that was infinitely dense and occupied no space.

We know now the universe had a beginning. Astronomers and cosmologists had assumed the universe was static and existed for eternity. This conclusion was disturbing to some astronomers. Some rejected the Big Bang for philosophical reasons not scientific. Mathematician Sir Arthur Eddington said,

“Philosophically, the notion of a beginning is repugnant to me. . .. I should like to find a genuine loophole.”{4} “We [must] allow evolution an infinite time to get started.”{5}

Edmund Whitaker wrote what many were thinking: “It is simpler to postulate creation ex nihilo—divine will constituting nature out of nothingness.”{6}

And finally, Robert Jastrow wrote, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”{7} So, God creating matter and energy out of nothing explains the Big Bang, where any naturalistic idea simply cannot explain the evidence.

Scientific Discovery #2: The Fine-tuning of the Universe for Life

Let us now turn our attention to the second of the discoveries in Stephen Meyer’s book, the fine-tuning of the universe for life.

This has also been referred to as the “Goldilocks Universe,” meaning a lot of things turned out to be just right for the universe to be friendly to life. For instance, you may be aware that there are four
fundamental forces in the universe: gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Each of these forces is expressed as an equation that contains a unique constant, and each one could have had a range of values at the Big Bang.

Meyer reveals that the gravitational constant alone is fine-tuned to 1/1035—that’s one chance in 100 billion trillion trillion. The other three constants are also fine-tuned, but even further, the constants are also fine-tuned in relation to each other. This adds another number of at least 1 part in 1050.

Meyer had the opportunity to hear Sir John Polkinghorne at Cambridge during his doctoral work in the history and philosophy of science. Polkinghorne used an illustration of a universe generating machine with numerous dials and adjustable sliders, each representing one of the many cosmological fine-tuning parameters.  Any slight change in the dials and adjusters of these parameters would render a universe hostile to life in any form. Polkinghorne would later say in an interview that a theistic designer provided a much better explanation than any materialistic hypothesis.{8}

Later, Meyer shows that including entities such as entropy and black holes, the odds of generating a life friendly universe are in this context 1 part in 10 to the power of 1 followed by 122 zeroes.{9} It would take several lines to write this number. This is an insanely impossible number to be arrived at by chance.

Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Charles Townes said, “Intelligent design as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real. This is a very special universe: it’s remarkable that it came out just this way.”{10} This intelligence is perfectly consistent with the God of the Bible.

Scientific Discovery #3: Genetic Information for the First Cell

In this section I’m discussing the third scientific discovery; the need for complex specified genetic information for the first cell and new groups of organisms throughout time.

In Darwin’s time, the first microscopes were being used and cells could be seen. Of course, scientists understood little of what they were seeing. Most of the cell appeared to be filled with something called protoplasm, a jelly-like substance that was thought to be easily derived from combining just a few substances. I’ve often said that if Darwin knew of the amazing complexity and the need for information storage, processing and regulation, evolution would have never been offered as a chance process.

Now we understand that the need for information to compose the first living, growing, and reproducing cell, is enormous. The first cell needed DNA to store information, specific proteins and RNA to produce additional proteins for the cell to function, and a controlled means to copy DNA accurately.

For instance, life uses 20 different amino acids to link together to form proteins, the workhorses of the cell. The number of combinations of two amino acids is 400. A four amino acid stretch has 160,000 different combinations. A small protein of “just” 150 amino acids has 10195 possible combinations. But how many of these could be a protein with some function? Just one in every 1077 sequences.

But also, new groups of organisms appear suddenly throughout the fossil record. Nearly all large groups of animals, or phyla, appear in the Cambrian explosion. Animal and plant phyla rapidly diversified in at least 13 more explosions within phyla and classes into new classes, orders and families with no precursors, from flowering plants and winged insects to mammals and birds. All these explosions would require massive amounts of new genetic and developmental information.

The evidence supports the need for an intelligent designing mind to create all the needed information. Minds create information all the time. Natural processes simply can’t do it.

Do These Three Evidences Point to Theism?

The three discoveries discussed in Stephen Meyer’s book, Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe are the Big Bang, the extreme fine-tuning of the laws of physics to provide a life-friendly universe, and the necessary complex and specified information for the origin of life and the progression of complex life-forms through the fossil record.

But where does that leave us? Do these discoveries warrant a return of the God Hypothesis? Meyer examines four different worldviews to ask, would the universe we have, be expected by any of these worldviews? He uses a scientific approach called “the inference to the best explanation.”

So, given a universe that is not only friendly toward life but contains living organisms, which worldview would best explain this universe? He begins with scientific materialism. Materialism has no explanation for the beginning of the universe. There was no matter or energy before the beginning, so matter and energy cannot account for the beginning of the universe. Moreover, for the origin of complex specified information needed for life, naturalism has no answer. In fact, only theism posits an entity, God, that has the causal power to produce genetic information.

Let’s move to pantheism. Pantheism does not propose a personal God but an impersonal god. This “god” is one and the same with nature. Then pantheism suffers the same fate as naturalism in that the beginning can’t be explained by what doesn’t exist yet, matter and energy.

But what about theism and deism? To explain the notion of a beginning, an entity outside the universe is required. Both theism and deism propose a transcendent, intelligent agent, God. Both can explain the beginning and the fine-tuning. But what about the appearance of complex specified genetic information on the earth? Deism and many forms of theistic evolution require a front-loaded beginning: all the information for life was present at the beginning and natural laws took over from there—God did not intervene. But how was this information retained over billions of years until life arose on earth? And natural laws simply can’t produce complex specified information. Deism and theistic evolution won’t work. Only theism remains.

On pg. 298, Meyer states, “As one surveys several classes of evidence from the natural sciences—cosmology, astronomy, physics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and paleontology—the God Hypothesis emerges as an explanation with unique scope and power. Theism explains an ensemble of metaphysically significant events in the history of the universe and life more simply, more adequately, and more comprehensively than major competing metaphysical systems.”

Notes

1. Stephen Meyer, Return of the God Hypothesis (New York: HarperCollins, 2021).
2. Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden 133, quoted in Meyer, Return of the God Hypothesis, 14.
3. The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994) by Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton.
4. Arthur Eddington, “The End of the World: From the Standpoint of Mathematical Physics” Nature, vol. 127 (1931) p. 450.
5. Arthur S. Eddington, “On the Instability of Einstein’s Spherical World,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 90 (May 1930): 672. Quoted in Hugh Ross, ‘A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy(Kindle Locations 484-485). RTB Press. Kindle Edition.
6. Cited in Robert Jastrow, 1978. God and the Astronomers. New York, W.W. Norton, p. 111-12.
7. Jastrow, God and the Astronomers. p. 113-114, 116.
8. Return of the God Hypothesis, p. 143-144.
9. Ibid., p. 150.
10. Bonnie Azab Powell, “’Explore as Much as We Can’: Nobel Prize Winner Charles Townes on Evolution, Intelligent Design, and the Meaning of Life,” UC Berkeley NewsCenter, June 17, 2005, www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2005/06/17_townes.shtml. Cited in Meyer, Return of the God Hypothesis, p. 146.

©2022 Probe Ministries


DNA, Information, and the Signature in the Cell

Where did we come from? Heather Zeiger uses Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell to logically show that the best answer is an intelligent cause—God—rather than natural causes.

Where Did We Come From?

Where did we come from? A simple question, but not an easy answer. Darwin addressed this question in his book, On the Origin of Species. Although he never really answered how the universal common ancestor first came to life, he implied that it was from natural causes. In this article, we are going to look at Darwin’s method of deducing occurrences in the past based on observations we see today. This is now referred to as the historical or origins science method. We will find that purely naturalistic causes fall short of explaining what we know about DNA, but intelligent design seems to be a promising alternative. Then we will look at scripture and see how Christians can use these evidences for design to talk about who that designer is. We will be using Stephen Meyer’s new book, Signature in the Cell, to guide us on the science and method of approaching this question.

Charles Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species discusses his theory on how natural selection acts on living things so that the fittest organisms for a particular environment survive, and how this process eventually leads to novel species and body plans. Implied in his work is the notion that all living things came from nature and from natural causes. So his presupposition is that life must have first come from impersonal things like matter and energy. Because of this, origin-of-life scientists have been trying for years to demonstrate how life may have come from non-life.

Let’s try to figure out how a cell could form from purely naturalistic processes. Better yet, since we now know that natural selection acts on random mutations within the genome, let’s focus in on DNA, the instruction booklet for the cell. Without DNA, cells would not function.

DNA is part of a complex information-processing systems{1} DNA is a long, helical structure found inside the nucleus and mitochondria of the cell. It is made of a four-molecule alphabet arranged in a very specific order. This sequence is like an instruction book telling the cell what parts to use to build a protein. But this instruction book needs to be de-coded with other proteins. The difficult thing is that proteins are needed to make more DNA, but DNA is needed to make proteins. And the cell cannot function without proteins. This means that the first DNA molecule must have been made differently than how it is made today.

DNA is a very complex information processing system. In fact, Bill Gates has compared it to a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.{2} DNA is more than just an improbable sequence of bases; it is functional. It tells the cells what to do. So the question we really need to answer is, how can this kind of information arise in the first place?

Origins and Operations Science

We are investigating what science can tell us about the origin of life. Did we just come out of a chemical soup, or was it something else? First, we need to answer this question: How did DNA, the body’s instruction book, first get here? In order to answer the question, we need to decide what method to use to investigate this question. Since we are looking at the science, we should use the scientific method. However, we need to make a distinction between approaching something that is a re-occurring, testable phenomenon, and a singular event in the past.

As a scientist, I usually work in the area of operations science. This is the type of science we learn in school. You start with a hypothesis, then you conduct an experiment to test your hypothesis. Repeat your experiment several times, collect data, and make conclusions about your hypothesis. Operations science deals with regular, repeatable things that can usually be described by mathematical formulas. Oftentimes, operations science is looking at some kind of naturally occurring process.

But there is another type of science that forensics experts and archeologists use. It is called origins science. Origins science determines what caused a singular event in the past. The role of origins science is to first determine if something was caused by chance, natural laws, or intelligence. For example, one could find a rock formation that looks very similar to a human head. Was this formation caused by chance and natural laws, such as wind and rain wearing away the rock? Or was it caused by intelligence? Did someone carve the rock to look this way?

Origins science operates under a different set of rules than operations science because the event in question has already happened, and it is not a reoccurring, observable phenomenon. The best that we can do is look at clues to give us a reasonable guess as to what might have happened. In Signature in the Cell, Meyer uses origins science to determine if DNA is a result of chance, natural laws, or intelligence:

Thaxton and his colleagues argued that inferring an intelligent cause was legitimate in origins science, because such sciences deal with singular events, and the actions of intelligent agents are usually unique occurrences. On the other hand, they argued that it was not legitimate to invoke intelligent causes in operations science, because such sciences only deal with regular and repeating phenomena. Intelligent agents don’t act in rigidly regular or lawlike ways, and therefore, cannot be described mathematically by laws of nature.{3}

DNA replication happens all of the time, but it requires proteins. But proteins are made by instructions from DNA. So the first DNA molecule must have been made in a special, atypical way, meaning it qualifies as origins science. Origins science allows for singular acts of intelligence to explain certain phenomena.

This means we need to investigate, using origins science, how the first DNA molecule with its information-carrying capacity was produced.

What Are the Possibilities?

DNA is the code for life. If we determine where it came from, then we are one step closer to determining the origin of life. Let’s look at the typical origin of life theories posed by scientists as our first step in our origins science method, and see where theories are lacking or where they are helpful. Two things these theories all have in common is that they presume no designer, but only natural causes, and none of them can explain the origin of information.

The first option is that DNA might have arisen by chance. When scientists talk about chance, they are not saying that some entity called Chance did something. They mean random chemical shuffling, and out of that came DNA. But it’s not good enough to explain how random chemicals came together. Think of scrabble pieces. To say that DNA came about by chance would be similar to saying that someone shook a bag of scrabble pieces and threw them on the floor and it spelled out a sentence. And this would not be just any sentence, but step-by-step instructions on how to build a cellular machine. Chance is not a good explanation for the origin of DNA, because the probability of getting something as specified and complex as DNA is well beyond the accepted probability of zero.

The other option is DNA might have come about because of necessity or natural law. Maybe there is some chemical or natural reason that forced the DNA molecules to form. Two examples of this type of origin of life theory are self-organization and biochemical predestination. The idea behind both of these is that the molecular alphabet in DNA arranged itself because of chemical properties or environmental factors. Unfortunately, scientists have found that the molecules in DNA do not chemically interact with each other because they are stuck to a phosphate backbone, not to each other.{4} On top of that, there isn’t even a chemical attraction between these DNA sequences and the protein parts they code for (known as a codon). Since there is not a self-organizing motivation for this, and there is not an environmental factor that would favor certain combinations over others, necessity seems to fall short of explaining the functional information of DNA.

Some scientists propose that it is a combination of chance and necessity. The most popular origin of life models are based on this theory. However, Stephen Meyer shows in his book that the two most popular models, the RNA-first world and the Oparin model, do not explain how functional information first arose. Ultimately these theories boil down to claiming that random chance causes functional information.

So if all of the naturalistic theories of origin of life fall short, then perhaps we should expand our options to theories that allow for intelligent agents.

What if We Allow Intelligence?

It seems that all of the naturalistic explanations for the origin of life fall short of accounting for the information-rich molecule, DNA. As Meyer points out, apart from DNA and the machinery in cells, such specified information is not found anywhere in the natural world.{5} The only time we see these properties is in human language and writing. So if DNA has the properties of something that was designed, then why not entertain the idea that it was designed?

Today design is not permitted as an explanation in science. However, historically, this has not been the case. In fact, it was a belief in an intelligible and coherent world created by God that motivated early scientists such as Newton, Boyle, and Pascal.{6} However, after the Enlightenment (mid-1700s), many scientists started operating under different assumptions. They assumed that only natural causes, such as chance and necessity, are permitted to explain observations.

Flash forward to Charles Darwin’s time (1860s). Darwin looked at presently acting conditions to extrapolate back to the origin of all living things. He saw that environmental factors select for certain traits, such as beaks on finches. And he saw that things like dog breeding will select for certain desired traits. He therefore concluded that maybe the various animals and body plans came from conditions similar to this. He named this selective force, this breeder, natural selection. This was based on what Darwin knew in the 1850s, and some assumptions about intelligent causes influenced by Enlightenment thinking. At that time Darwin knew nothing about DNA. It would not be discovered until the 1950s.

Stephen Meyer discusses how presently there are no known natural causes for the kind of functional information we see in DNA. The only place we see this is in human language and writing. So perhaps we cannot assume natural causes. Maybe DNA arose by intelligent design. Furthermore, experimental efforts to try to produce DNA or RNA in the lab show that a chemist or a computer programmer must be involved in the experiment in order to obtain functional information. Natural selection cannot act as a breeder, because it does not have the end goal in mind.

Intelligent Design is a strong possibility for explaining the origin of DNA. It is something that we see in operation today. And it is experimentally justified.

What Does This Have to Do with Christianity?

We have been looking at the properties of DNA and how it has all of the characteristics of a written code. Using the methods of origins science that Stephen Meyer used in Signature in the Cell, we can conclude that intelligent design is the best explanation for the origin of DNA. Intelligence is causally adequate to produce a code like DNA. It is observable, in the sense that today intelligent agents produce codes. And any experiments that try to reproduce DNA seem to require the input of information by an intelligent agent to make anything meaningful. This is why Meyer calls DNA the signature in the cell. However, the science alone cannot tell us whose signature it is, so we need to look elsewhere for that. That’s where Christianity comes in.

As Christians we believe that God reveals himself through general and special revelation. General revelation is God revealing things about himself in nature. Think of it like God’s fingerprints on creation. Special revelation is what God has specifically revealed in the Bible. If we want to find out whose signature is in the cell, we need special revelation to inform us on that. And the Bible says this much. Right before Paul says that creation reveals the attributes of God in Romans 1:18-20, he says it is the gospel that brings salvation in verses 16 and 17.

From the science it is reasonable to say DNA first arose by intelligent design. DNA is one of many extra-Biblical clues pointing us to a designer. This evidence, taken with many other extra-biblical evidences such as the fine-tuning of the universe for life, the moral law on our hearts, and even the way that we know gravity works the same today as it did yesterday, makes one suspicious that there must be a designer. Now take the evidences for the authority of Scripture from archeology and the Bible’s internal structure and consistency and we have many reasons to believe that this designer is the God of the Bible. As Paul says in Romans 1, “His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (v. 20). So, even though the science will not bring someone to a saving knowledge of Christ, they are without excuse because it does reveal God’s attributes. Maybe when someone sees the Signature in the Cell, they will ask, whose signature is it?

Notes

1. “After the early 1960s advances in the field of molecular biology made clear that the digital information in DNA was only part of a complex information-processing system, an advanced form of nanotechnology that mirrors and exceeds our own in its complexity, storage density, and logic of design.” Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell (HarperOne, 2009), 14.

2. Bill Gates, The Road Ahead (Viking, 1995), 188; quoted in Meyer, Signature, 12.

3. Meyer, Signature, 29.

4. The only time the nucleotides in DNA interact with each other is when they are paired, A-T, C-G, and they do this through hydrogen bonding. However, this pairing is with nucleotides across from each other and serves to protect the DNA molecule. The coding has to do with the sequence of bases next to each other, and there is no chemical reason for one nucleotide to “prefer” being next to another.

5. “Apart from the molecules comprising the gene-expression system and machinery of the cell, sequences of structures exhibiting such specified complexity or specified information are not found anywhere in the natural—that is, the nonhuman—world.” Meyer, Signature, 110.

6. In the radio transcript, I included James Maxwell in this list. While he is among scientists whose belief in God did influence his work, he lived from 1831-1879 which was after the beginning of the Enlightenment. I chose to take his name out here for clarity, although he is a good example of someone who did not hold to the typical presuppositions of the Enlightenment.

© 2010 Probe Ministries


Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design

An unprecedented intellectual event occurred in Los Angeles on November 14-17, 1996. Under sponsorship of Christian Leadership Ministries, Biola University hosted a major research conference bringing together scientists and scholars who reject naturalism as an adequate framework for doing science and who seek a common vision of creation united under the rubric of intelligent design. The two hundred participants, primarily academics, formed a nonhomogeneous group. Most had never met each other. Yet virtually all the participants questioned the reigning paradigm of biologynamely, that natural selection and mutation can account for the origin and diversity of all living things.{1}

So said Dr. Henry F. Schaefer III, professor of chemistry at the University of Georgia, author of over 750 scientific publications, director of over fifty successful doctoral students, and five-time Nobel nominee, in his foreword to the 1998 book, Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design.{2} I was privileged to be one of the two hundred participants at this historic conference which, along with the subsequent book, form the backbone of future direction of the fledgling intelligent design movement.

I would like to highlight significant chapters from this book and provide additional resources to learn more about this important challenge to Darwinism. Along the way I hope you will gain a glimpse of how important this movement is to the future not just of biology, but of science education as a whole in this country and around the world.

Jonathan Wells is a post-doctoral research biologist in the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley. His Ph.D. is from the same institution in developmental biology. In his chapter, “Unseating Naturalism,”{3} Wells lists several important insights from developmental biology that seriously challenge a purely naturalistic biologic science.

Since 1983, homeotic genes have been the rage in evolutionary developmental biology. First discovered in fruit flies, these genes appear to act as switches to turn on a series of genes important for sequential levels of development. Of interest to evolutionists, is the fact that many of the same genes found in fruit flies are also found in almost every other animal group, all acting as developmental switches. They are even frequently found on the same chromosome and in the same order from species to species. Such evidence seems quite a compelling argument for all life forms evolving from a common ancestor.

But Wells quickly points out that these genes do not control the same body structures from species to species, so an evolutionary explanation does not fit so well. “If the same gene can ‘determine’ structures as radically different as a fruit fly’s leg and a mouse’s brain or an insect’s eyes and the eyes of humans and squids, then that gene is not determining much of anything.”{4} There is no current mechanism to understand how a homeotic-switching gene can change from coding for one function to another in different organisms. Suddenly, this new great evidence of evolution is yet another problem for evolutionary biology. Wells goes on to point out that intelligent design has no trouble incorporating similar switches in different organisms just as an engineer understands the use of similar ignition switches in different kinds of vehicles.

Wells concludes that, “A design paradigm can nurture the sort of formal and teleological thinking that will enable biologists to discover the laws of development that have so far eluded them.”{5} The reason for the elusion is the shackles of Darwinism.

Redesigning Science

In taking a close look at the book, Mere Creation, edited by Bill Dembski, I would like to explore Dembski’s own contribution to the volume, “Redesigning Science.”{6} If the name Bill Dembski is unfamiliar to you, it won’t be for long. Dembski is an extremely bright and articulate young man with earned doctorates in mathematics from the University of Chicago and philosophy from the University of Illinois at Chicago along with an M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Dembski is also the author of perhaps the most significant book to date in the intelligent design movement, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities{7}, from the prestigious Cambridge University Press.

Bill is also confident. He is confident that intelligent design can thoroughly reshape the horizons of science in the next twenty years. He begins his chapter with a whimsical scenario recounting a “nightmare” potentially experienced by Harvard paleontologist and vocal anti-creationist, Stephen Jay Gould. The nightmare includes Gould no longer teaching at Harvard, relegated to leading field trips to the Galapagos Islands and the Burgess Shale in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, with Phil Johnson and cronies firmly in control of the National Science Foundation.{8} While Dembski admits that the nightmare is hopefully not realized in all its details, the notion of design claiming primacy within science is clearly the objective.

In order for this objective to be realized, design must be specifically and rigorously defined. I’ll allow Dembski to explain in his own words.

The key step is to delineate a method for detecting design. Such a method exists. We use it implicitly all the time. . . . The method takes the form of a three-stage explanatory filter. Given something we think might be designed, we submit it to the filter. If it successfully passes all three stages of the filter, then we are warranted asserting it is designed. Roughly speaking, the filter asks three questions, and in the following order: Does a law explain it? Does Chance explain it? Does design explain it?{9}

In trying to classify an event as either due to natural law, chance, or design, we first try to assess if it is an event of high probability and therefore due to some recognizable natural law. A bullet firing when a gun’s trigger is pulled or getting at least one head when a fair coin is tossed a hundred times are both high probability events due to natural law.

Rolling snake eyes with a pair of fair dice, or even winning a million dollar lottery when considering how many tickets are sold, constitute events of intermediate probability that are justly relegated to chance.

But let’s say the same person wins that lottery three times in a row or even twice in a row. Suddenly we suspect that something more than chance is involved. Dembski’s own example is Nicholas Caputo, the county clerk of Essex County, New Jersey. Caputo was responsible for determining the order in which candidates appeared on the ballots for elections. Caputo was a Democrat and 40 out of 41 times the Democrats were listed first, which everyone agrees, gave them a slight advantage. We intuitively use the explanatory filter to classify these events as designed because they are of small probability and they conform to a pattern. Thus intelligent design combines small probability with what Dembski terms, “specified complexity.”

Dembski and the other authors of Mere Creation believe we can apply the same test scientifically to physical, chemical, and biological events.

The Explanatory Power of Design

One of the critical questions for intelligent design is its ability to explain at least some natural phenomena more completely than naturalistic science. Stephen Meyer addresses this problem in his chapter, “The Explanatory Power of Design.”{10} Steve Meyer is professor of philosophy at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, with a Ph.D. in the history of and philosophy of science from Cambridge University, England. As an example of design’s explanatory power, Meyer chooses to explore the origin of information within living systems, specifically the origin of the genetic code. Meyer brings a scholarly appraisal to the subject since his Ph.D. dissertation concerned the history and status of origin of life research.

Meyer summarizes the extreme problems origin of life research has encountered in the last thirty years, highlighting along the way the important work by Charles Thaxton and Walter Bradley.{11} Following the euphoria of the famous experiment by Miller and Urey in 1953, the origin of life community has suffered setback after setback. Miller and Urey demonstrated that a mixture of methane, ammonia, water and hydrogen could be induced to produce, among many other organic compounds, a few amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Subsequent work showed that this hypothetical atmosphere was pure mythology. So was the notion of a prebiotic soup of biochemical building blocks.{12}

Beyond the purely biochemical difficulties of origin of life research looms the immense problem of accounting for the origin of complex specified information contained in biomolecules, and specifically in DNA and the genetic code. In the computer age we are often amazed at the speed and storage capacity of modern personal computers, particularly the laptop variety with their 12 gig hard drives and 500 MHz speeds. We seldom realize, however, that “the information storage density of DNA, thanks largely to nucleosome spooling, is several trillion times that of the most advanced computer chips.”{13} So not only is there real information stored in DNA, but it is stored at a density on a molecular level, we can’t even approach with our best computers. So just where did this information come from?

Attempts to account for the origin of biological information by natural biochemical means have utterly failed. The odds of achieving even a small 100 amino acid protein are less than 1 in 10 125. Events of that small a probability just don’t happen. Not only that, but researchers now realize that natural forces are incapable of achieving the formation of bio-information by any process. At first, some thought that maybe the amino acids and nucleotides had some natural affinity for each other to help account for the specific sequences of proteins and DNA. When that turned into a dead end, some hoped that some sort of natural selection of molecules might help. But natural selection requires reproducing cells. So-called “self-organization” processes only provide low level order, like ripples in the sand, not informational messages like “JOHN LOVES MARY” written in the sand.

Scientific laws will only describe ordered natural phenomena, like the structure of a crystal, which bear no relationship to the specified complexity within biomolecules. Instead, our experience with informational codes and languages indicates that they always come from an intelligent source. Therefore mind or intelligence stands as the only possible source for the information in DNA, proteins and cells as a whole.{14}

Applying Design within Biology

Have you ever wondered how a baby is formed from a single cell in just nine months? You could ask the same question of just about any animal from wasps to caterpillars to frogs to clams. A fully functioning organism is a symphony of integrated parts performing in coordinated fashion to make beautiful music. But where did all the orchestra members (or proteins) come from? And who told them where to sit? And how do they know when and what to play? And what about tempo and volume and on and on? Well, you get the picture. Biological organisms are immensely complex, but they all start out as single cells. Somehow they turn into assemblages of different cells and tissues that all know their places and roles. Embryological development has long been a mystery and its secrets are only slowly being revealed. It has also turned into a potentially fruitful battleground between evolution and intelligent design.

Paul Nelson recently received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and is currently doing post-doctoral work at the same university in evolutionary and developmental biology. The connection between embryological development and evolution is significant because, in order for organisms as diverse as hawks and starfish to evolve from a common ancestor, they must change not only their outward appearance but also the developmental process that starts as single cells for both. Nelson’s “Applying Design within Biology” explores the connection and its inherent contradictions.{15}

A major observation of embryology has been that developmental mutations are usually harmful and often fatal. And the earlier in the developmental process the mutation occurs, the more likely the effect will be harmful. This led most embryologists to believe that evolutionary changes utilize mutations that appear relatively late in embryological development. Subsequently Darwinists predicted that the further back you go in comparing two organisms’ patterns of development, the more similar they will be. Unfortunately for evolution, this is not true. There is wide diversity of early cleavage patterns of cells in embryos from species that can actually be closely related. One author went so far as to refer to this as “intellectually disturbing.”{16}

Such a dramatic reversal would, you would think, cause many or at least some developmental biologists to question the validity of Darwinism. But as I have indicated so many other times in other essays, Darwinism is assumed, not questioned. Biologists mainly concluded that change in early development is doable after all and quite common. But as Nelson aptly summarizes, “There is little if any experimental evidence that ‘changes in early development are possible.’”{17}

While the diversity of pathways to similar ends in development is a problem for evolutionary developmental biology, it is an expectation of intelligent design. The sheer magnitude of instructions for embryological progress screams for a design perspective. Design is also found in the newly discovered redundancy of developmental pathways. Knocking out a seemingly essential gene can sometimes have no effect whatsoever. Built-in redundancy is a hallmark of design, not chance mutations and natural selection. Nelson basically believes that any element of an organism necessary for survival and reproduction in any environment is a strong candidate for design. This should help open up new research avenues for developmental biology which is exactly what new theories should do.

Basic Types of Life

Next time you are walking through a zoo, stop and think about what makes some animals different and others similar. For instance, if you are looking out over a large pond, you may see different species of ducks, geese, and swans. While they do appear different in some respects, there are also very tantalizing similarities. However, if there are also some flamingos or sea gulls in the crowd of aquatic birds, you would not put them in the same category as ducks and geese. They seem different. Evolutionists, of course, would see sufficient similarities: they are birds, after all, with wings, feathers, and beaks. So evolutionists would say they all evolved from a common ancestor. Ducks and geese are more similar to each other than they are to flamingos so the ancestor of ducks and geese is more recent than the ancestor of ducks, geese, and flamingos.

But since intelligent design is calling into question many evidences and predictions of naturalistic evolution, it is reasonable to assume that all animals are not related back in time through a common ancestor. Perhaps all birds did not evolve from a single source. Maybe there are many different ancestors for the many groups of birds and other animals. Well, how would you know? How could you recognize groups of animals that do derive from a common ancestor and those that have arisen independently? Siegfried Scherer makes an attempt in his chapter titled, “Basic Types of Life.” {18}

Dr. Scherer is a professor of microbial ecology and director of the Institute of Microbiology at the Technical University of Munich and has published numerous papers in international peer-reviewed journals. Scherer proposes that there is another unit of taxonomic classification that can be overlaid on current taxonomy, the idea of basic types.{19} A basic type is a group of organisms or species that are capable of hybridizing. These hybrids don’t necessarily have to be fertile themselves. Simply producing a coherent functioning organism from sperm and eggs of different species is sufficient.{20} Numerous successful attempts to hybridize different species of ducks, swans, and geese have convinced Scherer that they belong to a single basic type. This would mean that all 148 species are descended from a single common ancestor.{21}

The distinct differences mentioned earlier, between ducks and flamingos, would result from them being of different basic types. This observation leads Scherer to suggest that microevolution can now be defined as evolution within one basic type and macroevolution as evolution between basic types. The current evidence suggests that macroevolution is an undocumented process both from the fossil record and the biology of basic types.

The plethora of species within a basic type like the ducks and geese also suggests that there was a great deal of variation built into each basic type to allow many distinct species to form through speciation. This prediction would be consistent with intelligent design but not evolution. There would be no reason for evolution to suggest that some species would have more variation than others would. This is corroborated by the observation that hybrids between two species frequently resemble a third species. This indicates that the genetic combination of the third species was hidden between the two species used to form the hybrid.{22}

Scherer summarizes that evidence of individual ancestors for each basic type, fossil and biological gaps between basic types, similar or convergent characters in different basic types, and odd features, such as slightly differing genetic codes now found in a few organisms would also be evidence of design over evolution. The possibilities for further research are everywhere. Intelligent design becomes an extremely fruitful paradigm for research.

Notes

1. Henry F. Schaefer III, “Foreword,” in Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design, William A. Dembski, Ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 9.

2. Ibid., 475.

3. Ibid.,, 51-70.

4. Ibid., 56.

5. Ibid., 68.

6. Ibid., 93-112.

7. William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 243.

8. Dembski, Mere Creation, 93.

9. Ibid., 94.

10. Ibid., p. 113-147.

11. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories (Dallas: Lewis and Stanley, 1984), 228.

12. Mere Creation, 118-119.

13. Ibid., 120.

14. Ibid., 136-137.

15. Mere Creation, 148-174.

16. Eric Davidson, quoted in Mere Creation, 155.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid., 195-211.

19. Scherer does at least mention a competing idea, baramin, initially proposed by creationist Frank Marsh (Fundamental Biology, 1940, Lincoln Neb., n.p., Variation and Fixity in Nature, Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press) and further explicated by Kurt Wise (K. Wise, Baraminology: “A Young Earth Creation Biosystematic Method, in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism, R.E. Walsh and C.L. Brooks, eds. (Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, 1990, Vol. 2, 345-360 and K. Wise, “Practical Baraminology,” Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal, 1991, 6(2): 122-137). Scherer chooses not to mention another attempt in fleshing out this concept, the prototype, proposed by Lane P. Lester and Raymond G. Bohlin in The Natural Limits to Biological Change (Dallas: Probe Books, 1984), 161-172.

20. Mere Creation, 197-199.

21. Ibid., 200.

22. Ibid., 203-204.

 

© 2000 Probe Ministries