A scientist looks at ‘intelligent design’
As a boy, I was able to use a microscope to explore the world around me. It was fascinating to look at printing in books. Under magnification, the letters are no longer crisp and well formed. Printed pictures are a chaotic mixture of coloured dots. A razor blade has such a jagged edge that it is amazing it can cut at all!
By contrast, living things reveal exquisite details that are unsuspected without magnification. The eye of a fly, the texture of a leaf, the surface of a butterfly wing – these evoke a growing sense of wonder as we uncover new levels of detail. The contrast with manmade objects could hardly be missed!
Our understanding of the natural world has continued to grow as scientists have painstakingly explored more and more of these levels of detail. The human body, for example, is an extraordinary system of interdependent parts. Whether we look at the workings of the eye, the ear, the liver, the kidneys or the heart, the closer we look the more we find systems so complex and intricate that they boggle our minds.
Looking deeper still, we find that every living cell is a marvel of miniaturisation. Each cell has the molecular equipment to carry out a wide variety of tasks, including the amazing ability to replicate itself. The component parts of cells have all been studied in great detail, only to find more and more evidence of complexity.
When Charles Darwin proposed his views on origins, the cell was thought to be nothing more than a blob of jelly – a simple building block of life. At that time, many found no reason to doubt Darwin’s mechanisms for evolutionary change.
However, as scientists got to work with microscopes and other tools, the huge complexity of the living cell emerged. Nevertheless, these scientists were so well schooled in evolutionary theory that they never lost faith – if they looked closely enough, they reasoned, ultimately they would find simplicity.
Today we know better. Living cells are described as nanotechnology factories, packed with molecular machinery, with vast numbers of different processes going on in a harmonious way. New revelations about cell complexity continue to be announced and they often lead to expressions of astonishment by the researchers involved.
An enormous change of gear in thinking came with the discovery in 1953 of the cell’s information system. The genetic code is built into the structure of the DNA molecules that lie at the heart of every living cell.
Chemical units (‘nucleotides’) of four different kinds are arranged along each DNA molecule. Their function is analogous to the letters of the alphabet. Just as a sequence of letters is used to construct words and then meaningful sentences, so these chemical units arranged in appropriate sequences are used as a template – from which the proteins needed by the cell can be copied.
Just as the arrangement of alphabetical letters on this page constitute a code spelling out a message that you can read and (hopefully!) understand, so the nucleotide sequence strung along the DNA molecule is a code that spells out a meaningful message. Of course, the code has to be read and decoded before it can be used to control actions within the cell. Molecular biologists are only just beginning to work out what is going on.
Codes and computers
The codes we meet most frequently today are computer codes. Intelligent programmers convert real-world problems into a code that is then fed into the computer system. Indeed, both software and hardware have to be intelligently designed, otherwise they would not work together.
The analogy with the genetic code is very close – the biological molecules within the cell are the ‘hardware’, while the encoded genetic information is equivalent to the ‘software’.
In our daily lives, whenever we see coding, transmission and decoding taking place, we know that someone has sent a message. A simple example is making a telephone call. You dial a number (a code) which is transmitted to the telephone exchange and interpreted (decoded) as the telephonic location of the person you are calling. Using that information it rings the phone you are calling, and you know the rest.
Not just noise
The existence of a code points clearly to an intelligent agent at work. Codes do not just ‘happen’, they have to be designed. One vastly expensive research project is built on this premise – SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
Huge sums of money are being spent to employ powerful radio-telescopes to search for signals from intelligent life beyond earth. How do scientists hope to distinguish intelligent communication from all the radio ‘noise’ from outer space? By discovering signals containing – you guessed it – coded information!
Since, by common consent, coded signals point to intelligence, why should biology be any different? Within every living thing there exists an extraordinarily rich and complex coded system. Why should all that have happened just by chance?
After enormous effort by the best scientific brains, using advanced technologies, we are just beginning to discover how the genetic code works. The closer we look, the more pointers we find to intelligent design.
For example, the discovery of cases where more than one message is encoded in the same DNA sequence reveals unexpected sophistication. Another example is the mechanism that repairs faulty copying. All these findings provide powerful evidence that an intelligent Designer has been at work.
No one has yet proposed a coherent explanation of how such a complex coding–transmission–decoding system could arise by natural processes alone. Nevertheless, evolutionists persist in their view that, one day, an explanation will be found. It is a case of taking an ‘evolutionary belief’ position contrary to clear scientific evidences of design.
Over the years, discovery of complexity within complexity made the Darwinian approach to biology less and less convincing. Nevertheless, people held on to the theory, thinking that it could be rescued if simplicity were found at the most fundamental level of living things. Any such hope has now vanished.
It is as if biologists have been given a Russian doll to examine. Open the case of the outer doll and another is found inside. Split that apart and yet another pops out. Molecular biology has now probed the most fundamental level of biological structure possible – the molecules themselves – and still there is no simplicity.
Gradual transformation from simple to complex (as taught by Darwinism) will always be a problem as long as organisms are found to be sophisticated. Darwinists need to find the equivalent of a doll that has something inside that will allow their gradualistic mechanisms to work.
Hallmark of design
What have researchers found? Have they uncovered at the molecular level some simple system on which Darwinian mechanisms could operate? Or is the final doll of the set empty, forever blocking Darwinian-type transformation?
Darwinism has always claimed to explain the origin of complexity. However, the more scientists look at the data the less it appears that evolutionary theory has anything helpful to say on this subject.
Returning to the Russian doll analogy, the last doll of the set has been opened by the molecular biologists. It is empty. There is nothing at the core that can be described as simple.
Complexity exists wherever we look in living things. Consequently, there is no level at which Darwinian processes of transformation can work. This complexity is a major hallmark of design.
The Master’s handiwork
Believing the Bible does not mean that we become irrational. The Bible portrays the Christian as one who has been renewed in his or her mind – who has come out of darkness into the light. Included in this mental renewal is a right understanding of the world around us. Here we see the handiwork of our Creator God.
And consider this. If God indeed constructed the genetic code, with all its intricacy and information content, can he not also communicate life-transforming truth to human beings? The Christian faith is concerned with God’s speaking directly to our world.
He used prophets and teachers to bring his message to mankind in the form of the Holy Scriptures. Supremely, he has come himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).
The apostle Paul writes that God’s invisible qualities (his eternal power and divine nature) ‘have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made’ (Romans 1:20). What was apparent in Paul’s day is even clearer today, knowing as we do so much more about the things that have been made.
Animals and plants are revealed to be the handiwork of a Master Craftsman, who is wise, powerful and divine. ‘How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures’ (Psalm 104:24).
For further reading see the author’s book Creation – Chance or Design?published by Evangelical Press (available from bookshops or from [email protected]).