A Positive, Testable Case for Intelligent Design
In 2009, I discussed a paper in BioEssays titled "MicroRNAs and metazoan macroevolution: insights into canalization, complexity, and the Cambrian explosion" which stated that "elucidating the materialistic basis of the Cambrian explosion has become more elusive, not less, the more we know about the event itself, and cannot be explained away by coupling extinction of intermediates with long stretches of geologic time, despite the contrary claims of some modern neo-Darwinists." At that time, I noted that "[t]he authors give no indication that they themselves support intelligent design (ID), and it seems they are still hopeful for a 'materialistic' explanation for the Cambrian explosion." Recently I was directed to an article by one of the paper's authors, Mark McPeek, a professor of biology at Dartmouth College, where Dr. McPeek makes it clear that he is in fact not an ID-proponent. Dr. McPeek notes that he is a theist, and he's entitled to his theistic evolutionary views. But I felt it was worth responding to some of his criticisms of ID since they reflect common misunderstandings of the theory of intelligent design.
The passage in question is where he states:
What makes something science is not merely having hypotheses. Science is having hypotheses and then testing them. The Intelligent Design hypothesis is untestable by science, exactly because we can never empirically know or understand the actions of God or any other Intelligent Designer. This in no way negates the validity of the hypothesis. It simply means that this hypothesis is outside the purview of science, because science can only support or refute hypotheses that are empirically testable, and this is not one of them.
Dr. McPeek's article goes wrong where he says: "The Intelligent Design hypothesis is untestable by science, exactly because we can never empirically know or understand the actions of God or any other Intelligent Designer." Let's take God out of the equation here so Dr. McPeek's statement now says: "The Intelligent Design hypothesis is untestable by science, exactly because we can never empirically know or understand the actions of ... any ... Intelligent Designer." That statement is incorrect.
It's quite a simple exercise to know and understand the actions of humans, who happen to be intelligent designers. For example, by studying the actions of humans in the world around us we can construct a variety of testable predictions about intelligent design.
The theory of intelligent design begins with observations of how intelligent agents act when designing things. By observing human intelligent agents, there is actually quite a bit we can learn know and understand about the actions of intelligent designers. Here are some observations:
|Table 1. Ways Designers Act When Designing (Observations):|
|(1) Intelligent agents think with an "end goal" in mind, allowing them to solve complex problems by taking many parts and arranging them in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information):
"Agents can arrange matter with distant goals in mind. In their use of language, they routinely 'find' highly isolated and improbable functional sequences amid vast spaces of combinatorial possibilities." (Meyer, 2004 a)
|(2) Intelligent agents can rapidly infuse large amounts of information into systems:
"Intelligent design provides a sufficient causal explanation for the origin of large amounts of information, since we have considerable experience of intelligent agents generating informational configurations of matter." (Meyer, 2003.)
|(3) Intelligent agents re-use functional components that work over and over in different systems (e.g., wheels for cars and airplanes):
"An intelligent cause may reuse or redeploy the same module in different systems, without there necessarily being any material or physical connection between those systems. Even more simply, intelligent causes can generate identical patterns independently." (Nelson and Wells, 2003.)
|(4) Intelligent agents typically create functional things (although we may sometimes think something is functionless, not realizing its true function):
"Since non-coding regions do not produce proteins, Darwinian biologists have been dismissing them for decades as random evolutionary noise or 'junk DNA.' From an ID perspective, however, it is extremely unlikely that an organism would expend its resources on preserving and transmitting so much 'junk.'" (Wells, 2004.)
So by observing human intelligent agents, there is a lot we can know and understand about intelligent designers. These observations can then be converted into hypotheses and predictions about what we should find if an object was designed. This makes intelligent design a scientific theory capable of generating testable predictions, as seen in Table 2 below:
|Table 2. Predictions of Design (Hypothesis):
(1) Natural structures will be found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information).
Dr. McPeek says, "Science is having hypotheses and then testing them." There's nothing wrong with that statement. He goes on to say that "science can only support or refute hypotheses that are empirically testable." There's nothing wrong with that statement either. The problem is when he says that ID "is not" such a testable hypothesis. But as seen in the quote above, this accusation is made right after Dr. McPeek made his inaccurate statement that we can "never empirically know or understand the actions of ... any ... Intelligent Designer." On the contrary, if we can empirically know and understand the actions of intelligent agents, then we can make testable predictions about what we should find if intelligent causation was at work.
That's exactly what ID proponents do. And the predictions of ID can be put to the test, as discussed in Table 3:
|Table 3. Examining the Evidence (Experiment and Conclusion):
(1) Language-based codes can be revealed by seeking to understand the workings of genetics and inheritance. High levels of specified complexity and irreducibly complexity are detected in biological systems through theoretical analysis, computer simulations and calculations (Behe & Snoke, 2004; Dembski 1998b; Axe et al. 2008; Axe, 2010a; Axe, 2010b; Dembski and Marks 2009a; Dembski and Marks 2009b; Ewert et al. 2009; Ewert et al. 2010; Chiu et al. 2002; Durston et al. 2007; Abel and Trevors, 2006; Voie 2006), "reverse engineering" (e.g. knockout experiments) (Minnich and Meyer, 2004; McIntosh 2009a; McIntosh 2009b) or mutational sensitivity tests (Axe, 2000; Axe, 2004; Gauger et al. 2010).
Finally, in a later section of his article, Dr. McPeek writes: "if God's hand were accepted as the scientific explanation for some complexity of nature, scientific inquiry into that complexity -- by definition -- stops." Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Below are about a dozen or so examples of areas where ID is helping science to generate new scientific knowledge and open up new avenues of research. Each example includes citations to mainstream scientific articles and publications by ID proponents that discuss this research:
While it seems clear that Dr. McPeek's criticisms of ID are based upon severe misunderstandings of the theory, don't expect him to admit he's wrong. Dr. McPeek holds a prestigious position at an Ivy League school where he pursues research related to evolutionary biology. If Thomas Kuhn's ideas hold any merit, he's not likely to admit the veracity of a new, competing paradigm of biology. Also, his article makes it clear he's capitulated to the NOMA construct which pretends that, as he puts it, "science can only be mute on these issues, since we cannot empirically test the existence, actions or methods of God." While we might not be able to scientifically identify the designer as God, we can certainly find signs of intelligent action in nature.
Dr. McPeek might feel that it is impossible to scientifically test for the prior action of an intelligent agent, but a lot of other scientists disagree with him. Many of their peer-reviewed scientific publications are cited among the references below.
Douglas D. Axe, "Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors," Journal of Molecular Biology, Vol. 301:585-595 (2000).
Douglas D. Axe, "Estimating the Prevalence of Protein Sequences Adopting Functional Enzyme Folds," Journal of Molecular Biology, 1-21 (2004).
Douglas D. Axe, Brendan W. Dixon, Philip Lu, "Stylus: A System for Evolutionary Experimentation Based on a Protein/Proteome Model with Non-Arbitrary Functional Constraints," PLoS One, Vol. 3(6):e2246 (June 2008).
a. Douglas D. Axe, "The Case Against a Darwinian Origin of Protein Folds," Bio-Complexity, Vol. 2010).
b. Douglas D. Axe, "The Limits of Complex Adaptation: An Analysis Based on a Simple Model of Structured Bacterial Populations," BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2010(4):1-10.
Michael J. Behe & David W. Snoke, "Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues," Protein Science, Vol. 13:2651-2664 (2004).
Chiu, David K.Y., and Lui, Thomas W.H., "Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for Biomolecular Sequence Analysis," International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, Vol. 4(3):766-775 (September, 2002).
John A. Davison, "A Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis," Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum, Vol. 98: 155-166. (2005).
a. William Dembski, "Intelligent Science and Design," First Things, Vol. 86:21-27 (October 1998).
b. W.A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge University Press, 1998).
a. William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, "Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success," IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics A, Systems & Humans, Vol. 39 (5):1051-1061 (September, 2009).
b. William A. Dembski, and Robert J. Marks II, "Bernoulli's Principle of Insufficient Reason and Conservation of Information in Computer Search," Proceedings of the 2009 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics San Antonio, TX, USA, 2647-2652 (October 2009).
Kirk K. Durston, David K. Y. Chiu, David L. Abel, Jack T. Trevors, "Measuring the functional sequence complexity of proteins," Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling, Vol. 4:47 (2007).
Winston Ewert, William A. Dembski, and Robert J. Marks II, "Evolutionary Synthesis of Nand Logic: Dissecting a Digital Organism," Proceedings of the 2009 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics San Antonio, TX, USA, 3047-3053 (October 2009).
Winston Ewert, George Montanez, William A. Dembski, Robert J. Marks II, "Efficient Per Query Information Extraction from a Hamming Oracle," Proceedings of the the 42nd Meeting of the Southeastern Symposium on System Theory, IEEE, University of Texas at Tyler, March 7-9, 2010, pp.290-297.
Ann K Gauger, Stephanie Ebnet, Pamela F Fahey, Ralph Seelke, "Reductive Evolution Can Prevent Populations from Taking Simple Adaptive Paths to High Fitness," BIO-Complexity, Vol. 2010.
Guillermo Gonzalez et al., "Refuges for Life in a Hostile Universe," Scientific American (October, 2001).
D. Halsmer et al., "The Coherence of an Engineered World," International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics , Vol. 4 (1):47-65 (2009).
Wolf-Ekkehard Lonnig, "Dynamic genomes, morphological stasis, and the origin of irreducible complexity," in Dynamical Genetics pp. 101-119 (Valerio Parisi, Valeria De Fonzo, and Filippo Aluffi-Pentini eds., 2004).
Casey Luskin, "Human Origins and Intelligent Design," Progress in Complexity and Design, (Vol 4.1, November, 2005).
Stephen C. Meyer, Marcus Ross, Paul Nelson & Paul Chien, "The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang," in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (John A. Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer eds., Michigan State University Press, 2003).
a. Stephen C. Meyer, "The Cambrian Information Explosion," in Debating Design (edited by Michael Ruse and William Dembski; Cambridge University Press 2004).
b. Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Vol. 117(2):213-239 (2004).
a. A.C. McIntosh, "Information and Entropy -- Top-Down or Bottom-Up Development in Living Systems?," International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, Vol. 4(4):351-385 (2009).
b. A.C. McIntosh, "Evidence of Design in Bird Feathers and Avian Respiration," International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, Vol. 4(2): 154-169 (2009).
Scott A. Minnich & Stephen C. Meyer, "Genetic analysis of coordinate flagellar and type III regulatory circuits in pathogenic bacteria," in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece (M.W. Collins & C.A. Brebbia eds., 2004).
Paul Nelson and Jonathan Wells, "Homology in Biology," in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, (Michigan State University Press, 2003).
Albert D. G. de Roos, "Origins of introns based on the definition of exon modules and their conserved interfaces," Bioinformatics, Vol. 21(1):2-9 (2005).
Albert D. G. de Roos, "Conserved intron positions in ancient protein modules," Biology Direct, Vol. 2:7 (2007).
Albert D. G. de Roos, "The Origin of the Eukaryotic Cell Based on Conservation of Existing Interfaces," Artificial Life, Vol. 12:513-523 (2006).
Josiah D. Seaman and John C. Sanford, "Skittle: A 2-Dimensional Genome Visualization Tool," BMC Informatics, Vol. 10:451 (2009).
Michael Sherman, "Universal Genome in the Origin of Metazoa: Thoughts About Evolution," Cell Cycle, Vol. 6(15):1873-1877 (August 1, 2007).
Richard Sternberg and James A. Shapiro, "How Repeated Retroelements format genome function," Cytogenetic and Genome Research, Vol. 110: 108-116 (2005).
Richard v. Sternberg, "On the Roles of Repetitive DNA Elements in the Context of a Unified Genomic- Epigenetic System," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 981: 154-188 (2002).
Richard v. Sternberg, "DNA Codes and Information: Formal Structures and Relational Causes," Acta Biotheoretica, Vol. 56(3):205-232 (September, 2008).
J.T. Trevors and D.L. Abel, "Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life," Cell Biology International, Vol. 28: 729-739 (2004).
J. T. Trevors and D. Abel, "Self-organization vs. self-ordering events in life-origin models," Physics of Life Reviews, Vol. 3: 211--228 (2006).
Oyvind Albert Voie, "Biological function and the genetic code are interdependent," Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, Vol. 28:1000--1004 (2006).
Jonathan Wells, "Using Intelligent Design Theory to Guide Scientific Research" Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design (Vol. 3.1.2, November 2004).
Jonathan Wells, "Do Centrioles Generate a Polar Ejection Force?," Rivista di Biologia / Biology Forum, Vol. 98:71-96 (2005).