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Biologic InstituteDesign without a Designer? (Hold onto your hat!!! Evos invite IDers to...)
Biologic Institute ^ | December 9, 2009 | Douglas Axe

Posted on 12/10/2009 11:03:19 AM PST by GodGunsGuts

Last February I mentioned the events that would commemorate the life and work of Charles Darwin in 2009. I had no idea at the time that I would be invited to participate in one of these events. But there I was, precisely 150 years after On the Origin of Species first appeared, seated with other scientists in front of a packed room that featured, among other interesting things, a life-sized model of a baleen whale. The venue was the National Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, and the occasion was a panel discussion titled Design without a Designer? [1] The “bold generation” of young thinkers turned up in droves, listening intently as the discussion went well beyond its advertised ninety minutes.

To my knowledge the event wasn’t recorded, so a transcript may never appear. I’ll include my statements below (which I had to prepare in advance for translation). I have to confess, though, that the mere fact that this took place at all impressed me beyond anything that was said. You have to wonder what Darwin would have thought had he known that his theory would still be the subject of scientific debate a century and a half later. Does anything become healthy after so many years of limping along?

The official description of the event [1] is remarkable in itself, in that it sheds the usual religious caricature of ID in favor of the real scientific issue— whether there is objective evidence of creative intelligence behind the design of life. We’ve translated the short version as follows:

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Darwin’s theory, this high-caliber panel discussion between evolutionists and Darwin critics will consider the question of whether the evolution of life on Earth is based solely on blind and unguided natural processes, or whether there is non-religiously based, verifiable evidence of meaningful and purposeful acts of creative intelligence in the natural world. This meeting at the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History aims to contribute constructively and with clarity and objectivity to this important debate. A public debate between evolutionary biologists and evolutionary critics at this high level is very rare in Germany, and therefore can be expected to be a very exciting evening.

It’s rare anywhere. And an exciting evening it was.

Here’s my opening statement on intelligent design:

The controversy surrounding intelligent design has generated much confusion about the theory’s basic claims. For example, the Oxford American Dictionary defines intelligent design as: “the theory that life, or the universe, cannot have arisen by chance and was designed and created by some intelligent entity.”

The problem with this definition is that it makes intelligent design sound more like a dogma than a theory. So, let’s consider another description. William Dembski and Stephen Meyer have both framed the design argument in terms of functional information, meaning information that specifies a significant functional outcome. Since this fits well with my own understanding, I offer the following three-statement summary of the design argument:

First: Living things contain within their genomes large amounts of functional information.

Second: The only cause known to be capable of generating large amounts of functional information is intelligence.

And third: It is therefore reasonable to infer that the functional information in living things must have an intelligent source.

Here we have not a pronouncement but an argument based on evidence and logic. It is perfectly fair to argue against it, of course, but it is hardly fair to dismiss it as dogma.

So, what does this have to do with Darwin’s great book, which we remember today? On this question I refer to a well known popularizer of Darwin’s theory, professor Richard Dawkins. In his book Climbing Mount Improbable [2], Dawkins distinguishes between designed objects—things crafted with creative intent— and what he calls ‘designoid’ objects—things that appear designed but have in fact been crafted by natural selection. Living things are either one or the other— either designed or designoid. They cannot be both. On this point, Dawkins and I agree.

To support his claim that they are designoid rather than designed, Dawkins turns to spiders and computers. He uses a computer program called NetSpinner, which applies an evolutionary algorithm to optimize the design of a virtual spider web. After evolving in this way some impressive webs, he discusses the limitations of computer models like NetSpinner. Here he makes a common-sense point about the trade-off between their simplicity and their realism. In his words: “Every time an additional and complicated point of detail is incorporated into NetSpinner, extra pages of difficult computer code have to be written by a clever human programmer.” [2]

Now, as obvious as this point may be, it is significant in that Dawkins’ reasoning here seems very similar to the design reasoning I just outlined:

• Software upgrades contain large amounts of functional information.

• Intelligence is the only known source of this kind of information.

• Therefore software upgrades require intelligent programmers.

Moreover, Dawkins applies this design reasoning right after using NetSpinner to demonstrate the power of natural selection operating in a computer. Why, I wonder, does he not tap that power to create those new pages of computer code? Is it that code is too complex to be spun by selection? If so, does any biologist honestly believe that the inner workings of biology are less complex?

According to Dawkins, a typical spider produces six different kinds of silk from its spinnerets, each made in a separate abdominal gland, and it switches between the different types for different purposes. The silk itself has what Dawkins describes as a “remarkably complicated structure” that imparts to its threads equally remarkable material properties. Among these are the ability to stretch on impact to ten times its rest length, and to dampen the recoil so as not to fling captured prey out of the web. Equally remarkable is the stickiness, which is achieved in some spiders with a special coating, and in others with a multi-stranded silk which must be combed out with a specialized comb on the spider’s leg. The result is a microscopic version of Velcro, which is highly efficient at snagging insect legs.

Perhaps someday someone will show in a convincing way how such things can come about without intelligent design. If that day ever comes, we will presumably have no more need of clever human programmers or engineers. Perhaps that day will come. But today, despite the heroic efforts of people like Darwin and Dawkins— today we must appeal to intelligent design.

And here’s my statement on the origin of biological information:

I’d like to develop further the connection between functional information and intelligent design. In a broad sense, everything that performs a function by means of a special arrangement of parts embodies functional information. When it comes to quantifying that information, though, some things are much more suitable objects of study than others. Here sequences of characters, like letters in sentences or bits in data streams, are of special interest.

No one in Darwin’s time would have guessed how important information of this digital kind would become in human technology. But as hard as that would have been to imagine, it would have been still harder to imagine the central role of digital information in life itself. Even today we are debating the implications this has for Darwin’s theory.

For my own part, it is the study of functional information in life that, more than anything else, has convinced me that Darwinism must give way to intelligent design. Five minutes is not enough time to explain this fully, so those interested in the details will need to refer to more detailed accounts. I particularly recommend Stephen Meyer’s recent book Signature in the Cell, though it is not yet available in German.

Here, in order to simplify the subject I’ll use an analogy to describe how the functional information in biological genes has been measured. The analogy is between the proteins that genes encode and written language, the two having at least rough correspondence in several respects. Proteins are something like long sentences, written not with a 26-letter alphabet but with a 20-amino-acid alphabet. In both cases the alphabetic characters are arranged in sequence to accomplish useful tasks— either a communication task or a biological task. The rules for proper sequence arrangement are somewhat flexible in both cases. Just as the same idea can be expressed in different words, and therefore different letter sequences, so also the same protein function can be achieved with different amino-acid sequences. And both kinds of sequence are somewhat forgiving as well— sentences may be readable even with several typographical errors, and proteins may likewise tolerate amino-acid changes caused by random mutations in the genes that encode them.

In both cases, however, the forgiveness has strict limits. If random errors are allowed to accumulate, function is lost when only a fraction of the positions have been altered. This transition from a functional or readable sequence to a non-functional or unreadable one presents an interesting opportunity. Since the degradation can be observed, it can be used to measure how restrictive the demands of function are on the sequences. And this is directly related to the functional information required to meet those demands.

So, to find out how much functional information is required for even a weakly functional sequence, we begin by isolating one such sequence— one with enough errors that it is just barely readable (or just barely functional). Then we randomize a section of this sequence to produce a great variety of altered sequences, most of which don’t work at all. Some fraction of these randomized sequences will work, though. They will almost certainly differ from the original sequence, but they will be comparably functional. By measuring that fraction after several sections of sequence have separately been randomized, one can estimate the fraction that would have worked if the entire sequence had been randomized. And from this one can calculate the amount of functional information.

But the fraction itself does a better job of conveying how unlikely working sequences are. For one protein subjected to this kind of experiment, the conclusion was that working sequences are as rare as one in a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. [3] In other words, they are unimaginably rare— far too rare to be stumbled upon by any unguided search, such as a Darwinian search.

Notice that this isn’t a negative result in the sense of an unsuccessful attempt to measure something. The measurement was successful. Some will still see it as a negative result in that it precludes unguided searches. But since we do in fact encounter meaningful sentences every day, we know that intelligence is fully capable of producing what chance simply cannot produce. So we ought also to see this as a positive result— one that confirms the design explanation just as decisively as it refutes the Darwinian one.

[1] Design ohne Designer?

[2] ISBN: 0393039307

[3] doi:10.1016/j.jmb.2004.06.058

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: absolutebs; belongsinreligion; bovinescat; bravosierra; catholic; christian; christianright; creation; crevolist; dna; evolution; genome; godsgravesglyphs; information; intelligentdesign; notasciencetopic; propellerbeanie; science; spammer; tedholden
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To: xcamel; Agamemnon

I just about spewed soup all over my computer.

That has to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, considering the source.

21 posted on 12/10/2009 3:59:33 PM PST by metmom (Welfare was never meant to be a career choice.)
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To: metmom
Which puts it smack, dab in the middle of a debate in ........


That is not science.

Which is why, until there is "non-religiously based, verifiable evidence of meaningful and purposeful acts of creative intelligence in the natural world," ID belongs in philosophy class, not science class. I'm glad you've finally come around.

Note that the author of the posted piece apparently agrees that functions evolve (though he seems to prefer the terms "come about" or "are produced," probably because "evolve" has all those nasty connotations to it). And as you say, "Science can...explain how." The author's only argument is whether intelligence directed the production or not. But that's a question for philosophy, as you and IDers both have stated.

22 posted on 12/10/2009 4:28:12 PM PST by Ha Ha Thats Very Logical
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To: metmom

You don’t get out much, do you?

23 posted on 12/10/2009 4:40:08 PM PST by xcamel (The urge to save humanity is always a false front for the urge to rule it. - H. L. Mencken)
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To: GodGunsGuts

Very cool.

24 posted on 12/10/2009 6:15:53 PM PST by rae4palin
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To: Agamemnon

It would seem more sane to me to believe that your single posting could assemble itself coherently over “billions and billions” of years, than atoms and molecules randomly forming fully-functional organisms.
BTW, “Agamemnon” appears in an Al Stewart song called “Helen and Cassandra”. Common knowledge, I assume? Bob

25 posted on 12/10/2009 6:17:20 PM PST by alstewartfan (I)
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To: Natural Law

You chime into a thread that does discuss things of a religious nature and then refuse to reply.

If you desire to not have your doorbell rung, post a sign. Otherwise those who are witnessing will have no reason not to.

You are in prayers, that you are saved, or if not that you do get there.

26 posted on 12/11/2009 4:42:49 AM PST by RoadGumby (Ask me about Ducky)
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To: RoadGumby
"You chime into a thread that does discuss things of a religious nature and then refuse to reply."

I chimed into a thread in the News/Activism forum, not the Religion forum. I invited you to the Religion forum if you actually wanted to discuss religion. Your failure to do so shows me that you are not really interested in a dialog.

27 posted on 12/11/2009 5:48:16 PM PST by Natural Law
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To: xcamel
You claim to be a Christian?

Do you?

28 posted on 12/11/2009 9:51:17 PM PST by Agamemnon (Intelligent Design is to evolution what the Swift Boat Vets were to the Kerry campaign)
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To: alstewartfan
Al Stewart is a fine, talented and under-rated musician, with an inclination toward history and classics.

And as it pertains to postings self-assembling through random chance, you may want to ask: has anyone ever witnessed the self-assembly of sub-atomic particles into atoms?

29 posted on 12/11/2009 10:05:48 PM PST by Agamemnon (Intelligent Design is to evolution what the Swift Boat Vets were to the Kerry campaign)
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To: Agamemnon

Would it even matter to you if I did?

30 posted on 12/12/2009 8:17:20 AM PST by xcamel (The urge to save humanity is always a false front for the urge to rule it. - H. L. Mencken)
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To: xcamel
Would it even matter to you if I did?

Clearly it matters to you whether I am or not. So why would you care?

31 posted on 12/12/2009 10:00:53 AM PST by Agamemnon (Intelligent Design is to evolution what the Swift Boat Vets were to the Kerry campaign)
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To: Agamemnon

Reassembly is a conundrum on so many levels, Ag. You’d think that since none of the most brilliant scientists have a clue how to do it, that just perhaps “nothingness” couldn’t have done it either. Destroying things, including logical minds, is relatively simple, however. Bob
P.S. It’s nice to find someone who is aware of the musical and lyrical genius of Al. A toast to you! (lol)

32 posted on 12/12/2009 6:28:25 PM PST by alstewartfan (I)
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To: alstewartfan
You’d think that since none of the most brilliant scientists have a clue how to do it....

How correct you are. For all of the scientific brilliance that so many of those who choose the materialist's camp proport to have, not a one of them can tell us how they designd themselves, or why they chose to do so in the first place.

As their own presumed creators, inventors of the most complex language which specifies their very existence, they can't even repeat their chosen sequence of events in a laboratory!

Could it be that they are not quite the masters of their own destinies that they believe themselves to be?


33 posted on 12/12/2009 8:38:01 PM PST by Agamemnon (Intelligent Design is to evolution what the Swift Boat Vets were to the Kerry campaign)
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