Editor’s note: Welcome to the traditional recounting of our Top 10 evolution-related stories of the past year, as compiled in a rigorous, peer-reviewed, strictly scientific manner by Evolution News staff. Sit back and enjoy the most amusing, the most enlightening, and the most important news to come our way in 2015. The countdown will culminate on New Year’s Day.
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Intelligent design, or ID, may be the most misunderstood scientific idea ever. That’s why we are delighted today to unveil an easily accessible 21-minute crystallization of ID’s major argument in the form of a beautifully produced video from Discovery Institute, The Information Enigma. I’m proud to have drafted the script, but the stars are philosopher of science Stephen Meyer and molecular biologist Douglas Axe. See it here:
ID stands out from other scientific ideas in a couple of ways. First, unlike other theories, it asks an ultimate question: Does life bear witness to being the product of intelligence, wisdom, purpose? Is your life, my life, therefore potentially also the object of care, even love on the part of a designer standing outside nature?
Or on the other hand, do blind, unguided, natural forces fully explain the fact that I, a biological creature, am writing this while you, another biological creature, decode and understand the alphabetic characters I have arranged?
Second, while other theories are far more difficult to grasp — general relativity, for example — no one sets out to invert Einstein’s meaning, turning his account of curved spacetime into a sinister parody to scare away independent-minded scientists and thoughtful laypeople. ID uniquely faces squads of activists committed to a rival idea, Darwinism, who specialize in confusing the public, casting ID as “creationism” or “science denial.”
Yet the evolutionary defense force is sometimes aided — let’s be honest — by the density of the scientific case for ID. Darwinian theory is actually a far easier idea to hold in the mind. I believe that The Information Enigma comes as close to simplifying ID down to the essentials, while remaining true to the science, as anyone has done before.
Until now, when journalists and other Darwin advocates rolled out the silly definition of ID as the notion that “life is too complicated” to be the product of Darwinian evolution, we have responded by suggesting they study up on the work of Stephen Meyer, Douglas Axe, Ann Gauger, Michael Behe, and other ID scientists.
But here’s the key to understanding reporters and editors: If it’s unfair to say they are lazy, they are at least mightily pressed for time. Daily deadlines are not conducive to intellectual exploration. The Information Enigma is our gift not only to them, but to countless other busy people. Now the information argument for ID is on YouTube, instantly available to anyone in the media, in education, in science, or anybody at all with an open mind and a few minutes to spare.
You’ll find, for instance, the image of the bicycle and the four-dial lock, drawn from Dr. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. Since I did not come up with it, I’m free to say it’s brilliant. Meyer compares the tough challenge facing a bicycle thief in opening a lock with just four dials of ten digits…to the challenge facing unguided natural selection in arriving at the genetic combination to “unlock” the right sequence to yield a simple functional protein. We show the difference in the form of a bike lock stretching to the horizon, furnished not with four dials but with seventy-seven! From the video:
[Dr. Axe’s] experiments [while working at Cambridge University] enabled him to estimate that for every DNA sequence that generates a short functional protein of just 150 amino acids in length, there are 10 to the 77th amino acid arrangements that will not fold into a stable three-dimensional protein structure capable of performing that biological function.
One correct sequence for every 10 to the 77th power incorrect sequences!…
To put this in perspective, keep in mind there are only 10 to the 65th atoms in the entire Milky Way galaxy.
You as a biological creature are constructed from cells, which in turn are constructed from proteins, for which DNA gives the coded building instructions. Searching that space of combinatorial possibilities for just a single protein is far beyond the resources of even life’s extremely long history.
In the past 3.5 billion years, only 10 to the 40th power (1040) organisms have ever lived. Each such individual organism represents a potential trial of the creativity of unguided evolution. If we grant the exceedingly generous (and highly unrealistic!) assumption that random mutations gifted every single organism in Earth’s history with an entirely new peptide sequence 150 amino acids long, then that figure, 1040, is still just a tiny fraction — one ten trillion, trillion, trillionth — of the earlier figure, 1077, which quantifies the space to be searched to produce a lone functional protein. Sufficient time is just not available for Darwinian evolution to do the job. Not even close.
In our video, Meyer points out the great scientific revelation of the second half of the 20th century is the discovery that life, like the article you are presently decoding, is composed of something like an alphabetic string, one that conveys meaning in just the same way that alphabetic code does. Intelligent design’s simplest and most powerful insight is to show that coded information, whether in a book, a blog post, or a DNA molecule, invariably derives from a purposeful arrangement of characters.
Purpose, intention — there is no other plausible explanation available at present — means design.
How that purpose is instantiated in life is a separate question. But there can be no progress in contemplating the second mystery without having acknowledged the first — the enigma of biological information. The ultimate question posed by ID is one that everyone owes it to himself to confront. We’ve now made that a lot easier and we invite you to help us, and help others, by sharing The Information Enigma.