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Intelligent Design in Action: Cryptology

cda_displayimage.jpgCritics of intelligent design keep saying it isn't science. Explain that to many scientists who routinely use ID principles in their work. Here's another one: cryptology.

Merriam-Webster defines cryptology as "the scientific study of cryptography and cryptanalysis" (emphasis added). Cryptography is the process of writing or reading secret messages in code. Cryptanalysis involves the theory of solving cryptographic systems. There's a Journal of Cryptology. There are professors of cryptology. Cryptology involves theories, data, experimentation, and testing. It has all the accouterments of science -- and is entirely based on intelligent design principles. Which makes sense. It takes a mind to encode a message, and mind to decode it.

Nigel Smart (appropriately named) is a professor of cryptology at the University of Bristol. In cooperation with Aarhus University in Denmark, his team made a "breakthrough in cryptography that could result in more secure computing," according to the University of Bristol. They've taken an "Alice in Wonderland" dream from theory to reality, allowing two or more parties to compute any function on secret inputs, a method called Multi Party Computation. It's a way of passing secret messages in plain sight (quite a trick if you think about it). Their product is called the SPDZ protocol, pronounced "speeds" because it's fast.

The idea behind Multi-Party Computation is that it should enable two or more people to compute any function of their choosing on their secret inputs, without revealing their inputs to either party. One example is an election, voters want their vote to be counted but they do not want their vote made public.

The protocol developed by the universities turns Multi-Party Computation from a theoretical tool into a practical reality. Using the SPDZ protocol the team can now compute complex functions in a secure manner, enabling possible applications in the finance, drugs and chemical industries where computation often needs to be performed on secret data.

ID critics might argue that we know about human minds, so this provides no support for the idea of unspecified intelligent agents creating natural phenomena. But intriguingly, there are examples of secure communications in nature, too. Trees, for instance, emit specific volatile compounds that notify other trees when an attacker is present. Crows use a complex vocabulary to signal the flock.

There are many examples of "hiding in plain sight" in nature. The Viceroy butterfly mimics the bad-tasting Monarch, convincing birds not to eat them. Cryptic coloration renders some fish and squid invisible to predators. Mimicry for predator avoidance is very common in nature. Predators, too, use a variety of cryptic signals to attract prey. Signal transduction is hugely important in living cells, and genetics is built on the translation of codes into other codes.

This is not to suggest that plants, animals and cells use mental power to accomplish such feats. In human cryptology, the protocols are automated once devised. Dr. Smart doesn't have to calculate every function when given new inputs. No, all his team did was design the protocol, and computers do the rest. Similarly, it seems increasingly evident that an intelligent cause provided the living world with protocols that are employed instinctively by creatures.

A skeptic might reject all these natural examples, re-interpreting them with Darwinian stories, and still be faced with the reality that human cryptology, like archaeology, is a scientific field that not only employs intelligent design; it relies on it. From our uniform experience, we know that when a message appears in a string of bits -- even if encrypted -- a mind with a purpose played a role in its creation. That is true even if we can't read the message (think of the Rosetta Stone), and even when we don't know the identity of the designer (think of SETI). ID is alive and well in science.