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Debating Design

From Darwin to DNA Buy book at

This Cambridge University Press volume, co-edited by leading design theorist William Dembski, and leading Darwinist philosopher of science Michael Ruse, provides perspectives from scholars on many sides of the ID-debate. The book provides a perfect template for those who would be interested in a comprehensive approach to biological origins in schools: it contains essays by proponents of Darwinism, self-organization, and intelligent design.

The volume begins with points of agreement between Darwinist philosopher of science Michael Ruse and leading intelligent design theorist and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow William Dembski. They agree that intelligent design faces harsh intolerance from the powers that be in the scientific community.

Essays by design critics then go on to argue, for example, that the bacterial flagellum can be explained in naturalistic terms. Ken Miller argues that the Type Three Secretory System could have been a precursor to the flagellum. Leading self-organization proponent Stuart Kaufman critiques neo-Darwinism and describes his alternative approach for the origin of biological complexity.

Finally, design proponents have their say, rebutting the various charges against intelligent design and pointing to positive evidence for design in certain features of the natural world.

Michael Behe, biochemist and Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute, explains that there are various irreducibly complex structures in the cell which are lacking Darwinian explanations. He observes that some biologists, such as Harold Morowitz, have rejected intelligent design (ID) but yet simultaneously admitted that “there are presently no detailed accounts of the evolution of any biochemical systems, only a variety of wishful explanations.” (quoted by Behe, pg. 356) Behe takes aim at various objects to ID, usch as the Darwinian proposal that an “irreducible system [was] .. put together from individual components that originally worked on their own.” (pg. 358) Darwinists have commonly cited homologous proteins as evidence that some parts of irreducibly complex systems could have been available in the cell. Yet Behe notes that “[o]riginally, the individual acting components would not have had complementary surfaces” and evolution requires “all of the interacting surfaces of all of the components would first have to be adjusted before they could function together.” (pg. 358-359). Thus the problem of irreducible complexity remains even if all of the parts of a system were available in a cell performing other functions. Yet intelligent design is bearing fruit as research on yeast is revealing staggering complexity, where “nearly fifty percent of proteins work as complexes of a half-dozen or more, and many as complexes of ten or more.” (pg. 367) Behe thus concludes that intelligent design is the future of biology in the 21st century.

Walter Bradley, Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute, argues that the origin of life requires an input of information which cannot be provided by nature, under the second law of thermodynamics. Bradley notes that the famous origins of life researcher Leslie Orgel in 1973 invented the term “complex specified information” to describe the type of information inherent in life. Thus Bradley observes that “[b]iological life requires a system of biopolymers of sufficient specified complexity to store information, replicate with very occasional mistakes, and utilize energy flow to maintain the levitation of life above thermodynamic equilibrium and physical death.” (pg. 349) After an extensive review of the technical equations of thermodynamics and various origin of life hypotheses, Bradley concludes that “there can be no possibility of information generation by the Maxwellian demon of natural selection until this significant quantity of specified information has been provided a priori.” (pg. 349) The best explanation for the origin of this information is intelligent design.

In his article, Director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, Stephen Meyer, gives a positive formulation of the theory of intelligent design. Meyer explains that non-ID-proponent philosopher Elliot Sober wrote that intelligent design could be formulated as a scientific theory which uses “inference to the best explanation.” (pg. 371) Meyer formulates ID by first studying the types of information produced when intelligent agents act:

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. Intelligent agents have foresight. Agents can select functional goals before they exist. They can devise or select material means to accomplish those ends from among an array of possibilities and then actualize those goals in accord with a preconceived design and/or independent set of functional requirements. (pg. 388)

This is precisely the sort of cause Meyer finds necessary to explain the information explosion during the Cambrian period. Meyer explains that large amounts of specified and complex information had to arise in an immensely short period of geological time, pushing the Neo-Darwinian explanation beyond its creative capacity. The best explanation, Meyer argues, is intelligent design, because “[c]onscious and rational agents, as part of their powers of purposeful intelligence, the capacity to design information rich parts and to organize those parts into functional information-rich systems.” (pg. 389)

Published by the prestigious Cambridge University Press, this volume is, to date, the most comprehensive and balanced collection of essays debating design.

Other contributors not associated with Discovery include Francisco J. Ayala, James Barham, Paul Davies, David J. Depew, John Haught, Angus Menuge, Robert T. Pennock, John Polkinghorne, Michael Roberts, Elliot Sober, Richard Swinburne, Keith Ward, and Bruce H. Weber.

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