The dominant view of Science today is naturalistic evolution, which claims that the universe is the result of an unguided, random process, explainable strictly in terms of chance and natural law. This whole framework of macro-evolutionary theory has come under sharp criticism in the last decade, especially from advances in molecular biology and genetic engineering.
Much of this debate has focused on the conflict between the naturalistic worldview of the Darwinian establishment with much of the scientific community on one side, and the claims of Christianity especially the theistic, biblical account of creation, on the other.
Francis Hitchings writing in Life Magazine states: “Charles Darwin died 100 years ago . . . but his explanation of evolution is being challenged as never before, not just by creationists, but by his fellow scientists.” 1
A case for design, and its threat to classical Darwinism
Stephen C. Meyer, current director of the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, USA has spoken widely on the concept of “Intelligent Design.”
Intelligent Design theory claims that the evidence for design in the universe can be detected empirically. Evidences for design show up in nature all the time. “What we do in molecular biology is in effect reverse engineering,” explains ID proponent Scott Minnich of the University of Idaho, “we examine complex structures in the cell and try to figure out the blueprint.” 2
Even Darwin did not deny the evidence of design; instead, he hoped to show that living things only appeared designed, while really being the result of chance and natural selection. What makes this enquiry so compelling today, is that design is no longer found only in living things but also in the physical universe itself. In cosmology, the so-called anthropic principle tells us that the universe is “intentionally gifted by God” and is finely tuned to support life.
Why is Intelligent Design so successful?
The ID movement has become a “big-tent,” attracting people from a variety of religious backgrounds uniting often-hostile factions, from young earth creationists to theistic evolutionists and everyone in between.
On the issue of Darwinian evolution, the Christian world has been playing defense. By contrast, Phillip E. Johnson says, “ID is about playing offense. It’s the definition of science itself”, said Johnson. 3
Science is typically defined as objective investigation discovering and testing facts. But there is another view held implicitly in the scientific establishment and it is tantamount to the philosophy of materialism or naturalism. This is the idea that science may employ only natural causes in explaining everything we observe. The way this definition operates is to outlaw any questioning of naturalistic evolution. The presupposition is that natural forces alone must account for the development of all life on earth; the only task left is to work out the details.
Design is ruled out not because it has been shown to be false but because science itself has been defined as applied materialistic philosophy. There are signs that this attitude in biology is receiving less acceptance even among secular biologists.
DNA and Proteins
In his series of brilliant reasoning, Stephen Meyer outlines one of the great voids in the materialistic science; an explanation of how DNA arose as the genetic code and how life might have arisen in the first place.
In the essay, “DNA and Other Designs”, Meyer captures the heart of the scientific case against the materialistic ideology that rules biology. He argues that Intelligent Design constitutes the best and most causally adequate explanation for the origin of the genetic information necessary to produce a living cell.
To support this claim, he argued that all major classes of naturalistic explanations, whether based upon chance, physical-chemical necessity, or some combination of the two, fail to explain how the information-rich bio-macromolecules could have arisen from pre-biotic non-living chemistry. 4
Specifically, Meyer argued “an intelligent cause operated [acted] in the past to produce the information necessary for the origin of life. We note in Meyer’s article “First Things”, that “design theorists infer intelligent design not just because natural processes cannot explain the origin of biological systems,” but also because we know that intelligent agents can produce information-rich sequences.
As Henry Quastler, an early pioneer in the application of information theory to molecular biology recognized, the “creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.” Quastler’s observation suggests conscious activity or intelligent design as at least a possible explanation for the origin of information. 5
The inductive basis for Meyer’s argument is strong when he states, “that all we can say, as scientists, is that mind or intelligent design is the only origin [cause] of complex coding that we know of. Indeed, I commend intelligent design as the best explanation for the encoded information in DNA.” 6
This polemic will produce objections from the Darwinian establishment, not because of the sound logic, but because the aim of biology has been to support a materialistic worldview rather than investigate the data impartially.
Origin of Information
This bring us to another pertinent question; the origin of information. The heart of the current crisis in materialistic evolutionary thinking is explaining the origin of the specified sequencing of proteins and DNA. How did such complex but specified structures arise in the cell?
The elucidation of the DNA’s information-bearing properties raised the question of the ultimate origin of the information in both DNA and proteins. The problem of the origin of life is clearly basically equivalent to the problem of the origin of biological information. What needs explaining is not the origin of order, but the origin of information - the highly improbable, aperiodic, and yet specified sequences that make biological function possible.” 7
During the last forty years, every naturalistic model proposed has failed to explain the origin of information - the great stumbling block for materialistic scenarios. Thus, mind or intelligence or what philosophers call “agent causation” now stands as the only cause capable of creating an information-rich system, including the coding regions of DNA, functional proteins and the cell as a whole.
Intelligent Design and Theistic Evolution
Intelligent Design is incompatible only with forms of theistic evolution that adopts methodological naturalism, the principle that in science one may invoke only undirected, unguided natural causes. But some versions propose that design was “frontloaded” into the initial conditions of the universe and its laws, so that creation would unfold over time in a way God intended. As it is, on foundational questions their position remains identical to naturalistic evolution.
Clearly, while Intelligent Design does not require any theological pre-suppositions, it has theological implications. It is resolutely opposed to the atheistic, purposeless, undirected, random view of evolution taught in the power centers of Science. The proponents of Intelligent Design are people who want to learn what truth is and what the facts are. They have a devotion to finding the truth – whatever it is.
However, the frustrating part of a lot of good science is that we cannot always access the basic mechanism of a particular event because the genetic code leaves no fossils. The answer in these cases is to look for more creative probes to the question and not to overemphasize one mechanism, which, while consistent with the data, possesses little of the predictive power of a good scientific theory.
Pope John Paul II proclaimed: “that more than one hypothesis exists within the theory of evolution and none of these theories should exclude the ‘spiritual dimension.” 8
The fundamental point is this: Don’t forget God. There are multiple, independent voices trying to point in various ways to integrate the standard accounts of creation and evolution into a theistic world-view. The bipolar thinking of some Christians has ruined the faith of many young Christians who are also scientists.
It is my conviction that the awe-inspiring wonders of life at the molecular, cellular and organismic level bears God’s fingerprint. Design requires a Designer and to me, the most powerful argument for creation and against evolution is to be found in specific evidences of intelligent, purposeful, information-rich design epitomized in the DNA.
“Every house is constructed by someone, but He that constructed all things is God.” Hebrews 3:4.
Bibliography and End Notes
1 Francis Hitchings, “Was Darwin Wrong?” Life Magazine (April 1982), 19
2 Michael Polanyi, “Personal Knowledge: Towards Post-Critical Philosophy” 9
3 Walter Thorson, “Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith”, Vol 34 No.1 (March 2000) 29
4 Nancy Pearcey, Christianity Today, May 22, 2000, 46
5 Nancy Pearcey, Christianity Today, May 22, 2000, 46
6 Stephen Meyer, “First Things”, April 2000, No.102, 4
7 Stephen Meyer, “First Things”, April 2000, No.106, 10,35
8 Editorial, “Christianity Today”, January 6, 1997, 65