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Stephen Meyer in the Daily Telegraph

Intelligent design is not creationism
By Stephen C Meyer
Daily Telegraph: 28/01/2006.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/01/28/do2803.xml

In 2004, the distinguished philosopher Antony Flew of the University of Reading made
worldwide news when he repudiated a lifelong commitment to atheism and affirmed the
reality of some kind of a creator. Flew cited evidence of intelligent design in DNA and
the arguments of “American [intelligent] design theorists” as important reasons for this
shift.

Since then, British readers have learnt about the theory of intelligent design (ID) mainly
from media reports about United States court battles over the legality of teaching
students about it. According to most reports, ID is a “faith-based” alternative to
evolution based solely on religion.

But is this accurate? As one of the architects of the theory, I know it isn’t.
Contrary to media reports, ID is not a religious-based idea, but an evidence-based
scientific theory about life’s origins. According to Darwinian biologists such as Oxford
University’s Richard Dawkins, living systems “give the appearance of having been designed
for a purpose”.

But, for modern Darwinists, that appearance of design is illusory, because the purely
undirected process of natural selection acting on random mutations is entirely sufficient
to produce the intricate designed-like structures found in living organisms.

By contrast, ID holds that there are tell-tale features of living systems and the universe
that are best explained by a designing intelligence. The theory does not challenge the
idea of evolution defined as change over time, or even common ancestry, but it disputes
Darwin’s idea that the cause of biological change is wholly blind and undirected.
What signs of intelligence do design advocates see?

In recent years, biologists have discovered an exquisite world of nanotechnology within
living cells – complex circuits, sliding clamps, energy-generating turbines and miniature
machines. For example, bacterial cells are propelled by rotary engines called flagellar
motors that rotate at 100,000rpm. These engines look like they were designed by engineers,
with many distinct mechanical parts (made of proteins), including rotors, stators,
O-rings, bushings, U-joints and drive shafts.

The biochemist Michael Behe points out that the flagellar motor depends on the
co-ordinated function of 30 protein parts. Remove one of these proteins and the rotary
motor doesn’t work. The motor is, in Behe’s words, “irreducibly complex”.

This creates a problem for the Darwinian mechanism. Natural selection preserves or
“selects” functional advantages as they arise by random mutation. Yet the flagellar motor
does not function unless all its 30 parts are present. Thus, natural selection can
“select” the motor once it has arisen as a functioning whole, but it cannot produce the
motor in a step-by-step Darwinian fashion.

Natural selection purportedly builds complex systems from simpler structures by preserving
a series of intermediates, each of which must perform some function. With the flagellar
motor, most of the critical intermediate structures perform no function for selection to
preserve. This leaves the origin of the flagellar motor unexplained by the mechanism -
natural selection – that Darwin specifically proposed to replace the design hypothesis.

Is there a better explanation? Based on our uniform experience, we know of only one type
of cause that produces irreducibly complex systems: intelligence. Whenever we encounter
complex systems – whether integrated circuits or internal combustion engines – and we know
how they arose, invariably a designing intelligence played a role.

Consider an even more fundamental argument for design. In 1953, when Watson and Crick
elucidated the structure of the DNA molecule, they made a startling discovery. Strings of
precisely sequenced chemicals called nucleotides in DNA store and transmit the assembly
instructions – the information – in a four-character digital code for building the protein
molecules the cell needs to survive. Crick then developed his “sequence hypothesis”, in
which the chemical bases in DNA function like letters in a written language or symbols in
a computer code. As Dawkins has noted, “the machine code of the genes is uncannily
computer-like”.

The informational features of the cell at least appear designed. Yet, to date, no theory
of undirected chemical evolution has explained the origin of the digital information
needed to build the first living cell. Why? There is simply too much information in the
cell to be explained by chance alone.

The information in DNA (and RNA) has also been shown to defy explanation by forces of
chemical necessity. Saying otherwise would be like saying a headline arose as the result
of chemical attraction between ink and paper. Clearly, something else is at work.

DNA functions like a software program. We know from experience that software comes from
programmers. We know that information – whether, say, in hieroglyphics or radio signals -
always arises from an intelligent source. As the pioneering information theorist Henry
Quastler observed: “Information habitually arises from conscious activity.” So the
discovery of digital information in DNA provides strong grounds for inferring that
intelligence played a causal role in its origin.

Thus, ID is not based on religion, but on scientific discoveries and our experience of
cause and effect, the basis of all scientific reasoning about the past. Unlike
creationism, ID is an inference from biological data.

Even so, ID may provide support for theistic belief. But that is not grounds for
dismissing it. Those who do confuse the evidence for the theory with its possible
implications. Many astrophysicists initially rejected the Big Bang theory because it
seemed to point to the need for a transcendent cause of matter, space and time. But
science eventually accepted it because the evidence strongly supported it.

Today, a similar prejudice confronts ID. Nevertheless, this new theory must also be
evaluated on the basis of the evidence, not philosophical preferences. As Professor Flew
advises: “We must follow the evidence, wherever it leads.”

Stephen C Meyer edited ‘Darwinism, Design and Public Education’ (Michigan State University
Press). He has a PhD in philosophy of science from Cambridge University and is a senior
fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

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27 Responses to Stephen Meyer in the Daily Telegraph

  1. The quote of Flew:

    “We must follow the evidence, wherever it leads.” gets to the point.

    There needs to be more than “hypothesis A has flaws or gaps so hypothesis B must be correct”, if mainstream science is to be convinced that there is a scientific basis for Intelligent Design.

    Arguments from personal incredulity, or from personal conviction (or from authority, Dr. Davison ;) ) will not progress ID as science with sceptics.

  2. As stated before -let the arguments speak for themselves-if ID is right it will not need personal attacks or boasting about IQ for people to accept it.
    If we are a product of intelligent design then that must mean we have a intinsic value not normally ascribed to people by those from a materialistic viewpoint.
    I found this quote from some guy (don’t think it was Patton)

    But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28).

  3. Xavier,

    ID is a lot more than “intelligence of the gaps.” It is an argument from effect to cause:

    “Based on our uniform experience, we know of only one type of cause that produces irreducibly complex systems: intelligence. Whenever we encounter complex systems – whether integrated circuits or internal combustion engines – and we know
    how they arose, invariably a designing intelligence played a role.”

    It is, rather, Darwinism that has a “gaps” problem, for it supposes that a cause (random mutation and natural selection) can produce an effect (irreducible complexity) when no such causal relationship has ever been observed.

    ID makes the inference that, since the cases of irreducible complexity for which we know the cause are always due to intelligence, it is reasonable to conclude that irreducible complexity for which the cause is unobserved is due to intelligence. Where there is smoke there is fire.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  4. Dave T

    This is where I get into trouble over semantics.

    You say:

    ID makes the inference that, since the cases of irreducible complexity for which we know the cause are always due to intelligence, it is reasonable to conclude that irreducible complexity for which the cause is unobserved is due to intelligence.

    but I think you and I maybe are not understanding intelligence in the same way. I make a distinction between intelligence and Intelligence. If I make that distinction I don’t disagree with your statement, but on the other hand…

  5. Oops, messed up formatting, final paragraph should not be italicised

  6. This is a great article by Dr. Meyer. In the article he re-informs the reader that ID isn’t religious and based on scientific observed facts. Unlike another theory we all love . In the article Dr. Myers explains that ID is not against evolution per-se.

    “The theory does not challenge the idea of evolution defined as change over time, or even common ancestry, but it disputes Darwin’s idea that the cause of biological change is wholly blind and undirected.”

    Another point…
    “In recent years, biologists have discovered an exquisite world of nanotechnology within living cells – complex circuits, sliding clamps, energy-generating turbines and miniature machines. For example, bacterial cells are propelled by rotary engines called flagellar motors that rotate at 100,000rpm. These engines look like they were designed by engineers, with many distinct mechanical parts (made of proteins), including rotors, stators, O-rings, bushings, U-joints and drive shafts.”

    how much would it cost to get a hard-drive @ 100,00 rpm ? [ mines @ 7200, i am soo jealous ]

    Charlie

  7. Charlie,

    The problem I have with the “look like they were designed by engineers” argument is that there are many cases where the appearance of design is in fact readily explained by evolution. Albatross wings may “look like they were designed by engineers”, and may work in a similar way to the wings on a Boeing, but the fact is that they evolved.

    Understandably, people then ask why does ID assume that the BF is designed just because it has “many distinct mechanical parts (made of proteins), including rotors, stators, O-rings, bushings, U-joints and drive shafts.”? IC doesn’t help because it only hampers evolutionary explaination without proving design.

    Something more is still needed in my book.

  8. Dr. Meyer states it very well. I’m not convinced that a materialist mechanism won’t be found that can explain irreducible complexity but two things remain clear at the present time: random mutation + natural selection has been neither observed creating IR nor plausibly posited to be hypothetically capable of it; no mechanism other than intelligent agency has ever been observed creating irreducible complexity. Therefore, while one cannot positively say intelligent agency is responsible for irreducible complexity in living things, it is the best explanation we have at the present time.

  9. Boesman, lets examine that fact of albatross wings, shall we? Please support your claim with some evidence.

  10. Srdjan, to support that claim he is going to have to provide a legitimate transitional form which demonstrates a mammal in development of flight-ready wings. It would also be necessary to see the viable biochemical step-by-step for the information-gaining mutation(s) from wingless mammal to albatross.

  11. Bombadill

    I don’t think there is a sane evolutionist who claims birds evolved from mammals. There might be a few who claim flying squirrels and non-flying rodents share a common ancestor, and there is an unbroken line of descent to current species via viable antecedents.

  12. From the article:
    “Many astrophysicists initially rejected the Big Bang theory because it seemed to point to the need for a transcendent cause of matter, space and time.”

    “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
    –Herbert Spencer

  13. I dont know if anyone noticed this….but Flew is a philosopher

    If I understand correctly as I observe this conflict from the sideline….”Darwinists” have always acknowledged the philosophical truth of ID….they just doubt it has any scientific value.

    Flew is one person in a long line of people who have accepted the complexity of the universe as proof of God. It is not a scientific proof of God, but a philosophical one. It is in the same category as Descartes’ proof of God….and the funny thing is that Descartes’ was also a mathematician. He never claimed that he had proven God outside the realm of philosophy.

  14. Srdjan,

    Albatross wings probably evolved from less specialized Seagull wings, or are you looking for more general information on the evolution of (bird)flight?

  15. puckSR

    Don’t make me regret giving you a third chance.

  16. DaveScot

    Im sorry….but what exactly would make you regret giving me a “third chance”?

    I am going to continue to call things as I see them. If making non-offensive editorial statements is going to get me “banned” then is there really a point to letting me back onto the site?

    I think that this incident illustrates a very valid point…that ID can lead people to a belief about a designer. The problem is that it doesnt illustrate how ID can lead people to a scientific belief in a designer.

    I have, and will always continue to be a deist….but i acknowledge that the line between front-loaded Deism and Theism is so vague that it more a matter of opinion rather than a truly debatable position. The difference between Theistic evolution and Intelligent Design is comparable.

  17. puckSR

    “Im sorry….but what exactly would make you regret giving me a “third chance”?”

    I’m not sure, but I’ll know when I see it and let you know then.

    “ID can lead people to a belief about a designer”

    Design leads one to wonder how it was designed. If not a designer, then what? I’m open minded to material causes but while one might make up plausible story about how a vertebrate camera eye evolved in a stepwise Darwinian fashion the molecular machinery at the sub-cellular scale is truly machine-like, hideously complex, and so far defies any fabricated story of self-assembly via Darwinian pathway.

    “The problem is that it doesnt illustrate how ID can lead people to a scientific belief in a designer.”

    Perhaps there is no scientific way to justify belief in a designer. This however illustrates a misunderstanding of ID. Design detection is what ID is about. It doesn’t address designers. ID doesn’t stand for intelligent designers. Analogously, we can measure the wavelength of light and determine the color of an object, but that doesn’t tell how it came to be that color. Color doesn’t tell us about colorers. But just because we don’t how it was colored doesn’t negate the fact we can determine its color. Similarly we can measure the complexity of patterns in nature and determine the probability of the pattern assembling by chance, but that doesn’t tell us how it was assembled. Regardless, not knowing how it was assembled doesn’t negate the fact we can determine the probability of chance assemblage.

    “I have, and will always continue to be a deist….but i acknowledge that the line between front-loaded Deism and Theism is so vague”

    According to the dictionary:

    deism: The form of theological rationalism that believes in God on the basis of reason without reference to revelation

    theism: The doctrine or belief in the existence of a God or gods

    I don’t find the distinction vague at all. Deism is essentially born of the argument that clocks require clockmakers. The clock is typically a mechanistic universe or mechanistic biology. Theism in other forms relies on scripture of some sort and/or personal spiritual experiences. If anything I’m a deist but as a rational person I’m not 100% sure of anything so I have to say I’m agnostic. I have had personal spiritual experiences but those may have an internal origin, an artifact of the mind, rather than an external cause, so it can’t be quantified or objectified in any way that I know of.

  18. Of course everything “evolved,” from the greek evolvo meaning to “unfold” as the pages of a book. One day a dinososaur turned a page and discovered the blueprints for wings and feathers both on the same page and implemented both simultaneously in the next generation. Voila – a bird. You bet your bippy. That is exactly the way it happened folks. Get used to it. Schindewolf did, Goldschmidt did and I did too.

    How do you like them greasy french fries? They’re bad for you. That’s why they taste so good.

  19. Professor Davision, did you color your lectures at UVM in the manner of your commentary here? If so, your students were given the rare privilege of being taught and entertained at the same time. To me, that’s the epitome of pedagogy. My most memorable teachers are invariably the ones that made me smile and laugh in class.

  20. there is an unbroken line of descent to current species via viable antecedents

    Show me, don’t tell me, Xavier.

  21. Bombadill

    I didn’t think I was saying anything controversial. I had two parents, they each had two parents, they each had two parents etc. For any generation to be part of that sequence they all had to be viable enough to have children. So with any sexually reproducing organism. Do you disagree with anything about that? The evolutionist proposes that small variations can accumulate over generations. The IDist allows minor variation plus input from a designer. The creationist claims all species were created at the same time and there is no variation subsequently. Dr.Davison says no evolution now, evolution by saltation previously, by unfolding of existing repressed information. I await others pointing out any misconceptions in the foregoing.

  22. DaveScot….please read a little more into Theism and Deism

    Theism by itself is the belief in God or Gods
    but when opposed against Deism or something like pantheism….Theism becomes the belief in an active entity known as God.

    Deism supposes that God is not active…however…the super-computer playing pool argument could be made. Basically, if you are so wise that you understand everything and how it will react….then you could “interact” in the past…as long as you didnt do so with direct intervention. This argument is used to oppose those who question the morality of a God who just observes.

    The argument for rationalism when it comes to Deism stems from the core belief that God does not act in supernatural ways in a deistic universe….all actions are supernatural…this would be considered a rational or naturalistic worldview….

    BTW….Evolution posits design too. ID is actively seeking an intelligent entity for design. I doubt that a methodology exists for detecting the difference between sentient design and automated design.

    i.e. consider this….in many systems flaws are proof of non-automated design. In other systems flaws are proof of automated design. In fabrication…a flaw would typically considered proof of non-automated design. In something like language translation….flaw would be contributed to an automated process. The type of flaw in both cases would also be important…..so how does ID detect the origin of flaws? I was only familiar with ID suggesting that probability detects design.

  23. Xavier

    The IDist allows any amount of variation minus any complex patterns with no demonstrable Darwinian pathway to said complexity. It could be a lot and it could be a little. The salient bit is that it isn’t ALL variation.

  24. puckSR

    Sorry. I’m going with the dictionary. Nothing personal. And I’m really not interested in going on and on and on and about God. Maybe you should go to a religious forum of some sort for this?

  25. DaveScot..

    I have not found your “dictionary” definition of Deism in any book i have come across. Deism is almost universally defined as the belief in an inactive supreme being.

    The seperation between Deism and Theism is not truly religious. It only deals with religion. The debate is almost purely an academic interest, and falls squarely in the realm of philosophy

    I was using the difference between Deism and Theism to demonstrate the philosophical differences between your version of ID and Evolutionary Theory

    BTW…an Agnostic normally lacks a belief in God. You seem to be rather confident in a supreme being…your only agnostic as to the nature of the entity.

    Just to clear up some frequently misunderstood terminology.
    Atheist-Believes that their is no Supreme Being(or anything supernatural)
    Agnostic-doesnt believe in Supreme Being(but doesnt believe that there is NO Supreme Being). This is a rather difficult position to hold….it basically means that you are undecided on the issue of the supernatural world.
    Theist-Believes in a Supreme Being

  26. “ID is not a religious-based idea, but an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origins”

    Is this part accurate? Not the part about not being religious-based. I thought ID would not delve into the question of origin of life.

    Thanks.

    Origin of life is an implication of design inference since the basic structures used by all known forms of life (digital genetic code, DNA molecule, ribosomes) appear to exhibit specified complexity without any known probablistic resource sufficient to cause their appearance absent intelligent agency of some sort. -ds

  27. So it would be correct to say that ID is a theory *about* life’s origins but not a theory *of* life’s origins. Am I off track here?

    I’m trying to argue with someone that says that ID does not offer an alternative to Darwinism. I understand that ID offers an argument that falsifies Darwinism. Would it be safe to say that Darwinism falsifies ID?

    Thanks.

    See sidebar ID Defined. -ds

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