Intelligent Design as State of the Art - Evolution News & Views

Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

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Intelligent Design as State of the Art

[NOTE: Today we welcome a new contributing writer to Evolution News & Views, Guy Coe. Mr. Coe graduated from the University of California at Davis with a B.A. in Rhetoric and a minor in political science. As a lifelong student of argumentation and logical analysis, his career has taken him from Executive Salesman, to News Reporter, to U.S. Senate Communications Aide, to Tour Guide, to Retail Management, to father of a budding teenager, "where all communications logic begins to break down." With a lifelong interest in the issues of intelligent design and origins theories, his status as "interested layperson" allows him to continue to follow the evidence where it leads, while showing proper respect for the lifelong dedication displayed by practitioners of the hard sciences. And, somehow, he still manages to communicate with his teenager...]

Much ink has been spilled, and heat generated, over the "intrusion" of the intelligent design hypothesis into the now seemingly exhausted "creation vs. evolution" debate.

Is intelligent design only reworked creationism, or is it something dynamically different? Now that intelligent design has "evolved" a little, and the theory of evolution has been a little more "intelligently designed," the focus of our attention has been changed back to the very puzzling questions of the origins of the complexity within cellular organization, while the "old regime" merely argues over the vestiges of an assumed progression from this unexplained point.

For their parts, many creationists and evolutionists are at such an impasse in old paradigms that each of them are left shaking their heads in wonder at the apparently willful ignorance of their opponents -- building their knowledge base on two supposedly vastly different approaches, and being at a loss to explain how the "convincing" evidence each position marshals can be so blithely dismissed by the "other side" -- to the point that charges of irrationality, and even willful self-deception, are rife.

As an eager observer of this unfolding drama over the last several decades, I have to say that my honest impression is that both sides manage to play fast and loose with the facts, ignore the anomalies, and distort the evidence, by virtue of prior philosophical convictions. Or perhaps it is more charitable to say that, given the same set of facts, many come to vastly different interpretations by virtue of poorly-constructed logic, selective evidence, and poor methodology.

And, on the whole, historical creationism does seem to make these mistakes more often. It undertakes the additional burden of trying to synthesize wider branches of seemingly disparate knowledge. Yet evolutionism, as an "answer" to the question of the origin of life, has also vastly overestimated itself.

Perhaps this persistent (even proliferating) confusion is to be expected -- because in the meantime, the expanded fact-sets and technological precision available to us today have completely changed the picture from even half a century ago. The world of cellular biochemistry we know today has vastly expanded from its infancy. And integrating these new facts into either worldview has become mind-boggling.

Probabilistic calculations, developments in physics and biochemistry, algorithmic modeling of biochemical scenarios, and technological innovations that allow for more accurate measurements have all both greatly complicated and greatly clarified the issues.

At precisely the time when "strict naturalism" was supposed to have completely prevailed, wider philosophical and scientific observations have enlarged our imaginations, and the old "either-or" approaches now seem stilted and unimaginative.

It is possible today for the scientific evidence alone to unite us around the conclusion that an abiogenetic scenario for the origin of life on earth simply couldn't have taken place in the relatively short timeframe available here, and that life must be the product of "importation" or "imputation" from elsewhere.

The "multiverse" hypothesis, the only other nearly adequate competing explanation, leaves very little by way of testable arguments, and the philosophical shoe seems now to be on the other foot. Instead of a "god of the gaps" fallacy, we now face a "multiverse of the gaps" assertion, and once again we walk away, scratching our heads at the "we just happened to be so lucky" explanation, which seems more like a faith statement.

Intelligent design theory has recently refocused the debate around the presence of what is surely one of the most inexplicable biochemical cellular systems we know -- the genetically encoded digital information storage and dynamically-partitioned selective information retrieval system used in the organic manufacture of a wide variety of infra-cellular nano-machinery, of staggering complexity, within a cell's membrane, to accomplish self-assembly. Consider that the same coding goes on to regulate, not merely reproduction, but cellular differentiation and specialization with an even broader set of schema designed to produce intra-cellular coordination towards ever-increasing levels of sophistication, to the point of comprising a functioning meta-organism.

How DNA came, in an incremental fashion, to contain this information, and even how DNA could have originally assembled, given its homochiral strictures, are completely open questions. No known processes of unaided nature have adequately accounted for them. No plausible abiogenetic scenario has been offered yet, in light of the proliferating evidence.

The principles of intelligently-directed nanotechnological design and assembly are only now being compiled. And once again, scientific "innovation" is proceeding more on the basis of mimicry, rather than of originality, with the already existing complexities of the natural world. The closer we look, the more in awe we become.

Is this a prediction of strict naturalism?

Methodological naturalism by itself, as heurisitic as it has been, may not be able to help us make the most breathtaking discoveries of all. If we insist that "matter is all that matters," we predispose ourselves to confusion, a wooden literalism, and an unsupportable and unimaginative biochemical and thermodynamic fatalism.

Is the origin of life, and its development, a matter of intelligent design, or of chance and necessity? What if the laws of nature are, themselves, the product, not only of design, but of active maintenance? In a quantum universe, it would seem, anything stable and predictable ought to be considered a bit of an anomaly.

False dilemmas often have a way of taking far too long to be discovered. Most really intractable arguments are not really about correct versus incorrect, but about how much versus how little.

It's time to allow our science, our imaginations, and our spirit of discovery to grow up a bit.