SCIENCE AND FAITH 3: Darwin and the Return of Design
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Scientists of the 21st century may discover evidence of design within nature, proponents of the Intelligent Design movement said in an inaugural conference sponsored by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, Oct. 23-24.
The conference, titled “Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?” was held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I think we can say that there has been a profound shift away from the materialistic world picture that we inherited from the scientists at the end of the 19th century,” said philosopher and geophysicist Stephen C. Meyer, who is director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.
“We have evidence of a definite beginning of the universe,” Meyer explained. “We have evidence of design, of intelligent design, from the very beginning of the universe, built into the very fabric of the physical parameters that govern the universe as we know. We have evidence of design arising later along the cosmic timeline, in the form of irreducibly complex biochemical machines, (and) in the form of the origin of life and the information required for that event to occur.”
According to Meyer, 19th century scientists like Charles Darwin believed the natural world must be explained “by reference to purely unguided, undirected materialistic processes” and without reference to design. Although secular scientists have inherited this view of the world, some scientists are breaking loose of this philosophy. Among them are proponents of Intelligent Design (I.D.), a research program claiming that humans are capable of detecting design and that evidence for design occurs in the natural world.
“The Darwinian view is that things looked designed, but are not really designed because natural selection has the power to mimic a designing intelligence without itself in any way being designed or guided,” Meyer said. “Now that was maybe a credible perspective in the 19th century, but increasingly that idea is straining credulity. Part of the reason for that is what we’re discovering in the inner recesses of the cell, in the nano-world of the molecular machinery.”
Such evidence, Meyer said, can be seen in the seemingly high-tech structure of microscopic systems, such as bacterial flagellum, which are unable to function if any of their parts are removed. This “irreducible complexity” implies that this system could not have developed through a random evolutionary process, apart from an intelligent designer.
“I think the even more fundamental evidence of design in biology is at a deeper level,” Meyer added. “It’s in the realm of information, the information stored in DNA, and … probably in some other places in the living system as well.”
Meyer developed this argument for design in his 2009 publication, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. According to Meyer, scientists have discovered that DNA molecules contain information “in the form of a four character digital code” that provide instructions for the arrangement of amino acids into proteins that then “form the parts of nano-machinery inside the cells.” This genetic information is necessary for biological life and biological functions, and any new forms of biological life require new information.
“If you want to build life in the first place, you also need information,” Meyer said. Biologists, however, have been unable to identify the source of biological information.
When Meyer was introduced to this problem of the origin of biological information in 1985, he began to read the works of Charles Darwin. After all, he said, Darwin “had pioneered a rigorous method of studying events in the remote past. In fact, his theory of evolution by natural selection was an historical scientific theory. It was an attempt to give a causal explanation for the origins of the forms of life.”
According to Meyer, Darwin’s theory uses a method of reasoning called “the method of multiple, competing hypotheses” or “the method of inferring to the best explanation.” In order to discover what the best available explanation was for the variety in biological life, Darwin borrowed another concept from his own scientific mentor: “If you want to explain an event in the remote past,” Meyer explained, “you should invoke or find the cause which is known to produce the effect in question.”
“And when I saw that phrase,” Meyer said, “a nickel dropped, and I asked myself, ‘What is the cause now in operation—what is the cause we know from our uniform and repeated experience—that is capable of producing information? … Intelligence. There is only one.
“If we apply Darwin’s principle of reasoning to what we now know about life that he did not know—namely, that information runs the show in biology—we come to a decidedly contrary-to-Darwinian conclusion. In other words, there is evidence of intelligent design. We haven’t explained design away. Design is not merely apparent. It is real.”
In another session of the conference, molecular and cell biologist Ray Bohlin discussed the weaknesses of the Darwinian theory of evolution, as well as further biological evidence for design. Bohlin is a fellow with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, the president of Probe Ministries in Richardson, Texas, and the co-author of The Natural Limits to Biological Change and Basic Questions on Genetics, Stem Cell Research, and Cloning.
Another conference speaker, Jay Richards, discussed the evidence for design arising from a study of astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. He argued that the universe is “fine-tuned” for life. He also claimed that the earth is not only incredibly adapted to the existence of life, but its place in the universe also best enables the study of the cosmos. Richards, who is a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, developed these arguments alongside Guillermo Gonzalez in The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery.
To learn more about I.D. and the “Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?” conference sponsored by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, visit the conference Web site at http://www.scienceandgod.org.