Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Darwin's Dilemmas: Essence Precedes Existence--Conclusion

Evolutionary theory, and its existentialist nature, are refuted by the fossil record and by new insights into the development of growing organisms, which demonstrate that "essence precedes existence." Critics of intelligent design theory charge that it is "bad science," and demand that any attempt to explain the origins of life and its diversity be testable through laboratory experimentation. Yet scientists in their own fields, and in "historical" sciences like geology, archaeology and paleontology, have posited legitimate scientific hypotheses that are not testable in the same way as in experimental sciences like chemistry and physics. Their theories are tested by comparing their explanatory power to that of competing theories attempting to explain what we see today by theorizing past events or conditions.

How can this legimiately scientific approach and its test of the explanatory power of competing theories be used to determine the cause of the diversity of biological life we see today?


In 1991, philosopher of science Peter Lipton wrote Inference to the Best Explanation, in which he systematically explained and defended this way of reasoning. He wrote that, "beginning with the evidence available to us," we "infer what would, if true, best explain that evidence." Recognizing a known problem with this sort of abductive reasoning (affirming the consequent), he noted that when more than one cause can explain present evidence, scientists use a process of elimination to evaluate competing theories, rejecting those which don't adequately explain the evidence.

Thus, there are legitimately scientific theories which are not testable in the way intelligent design critics demand. As Stephen Meyer wrote in Signature in the Cell:

Clearly, this method of testing scientific ideas is different from that used by experimental scientists, who test their theories by making predictions about what will happen under controlled laboratory conditions. Even so, historical scientists are not the only scientists to use it. Arguably, Watson and Crick used this method to test their ideas about the structure of DNA against competing models. And many scientists--theoretical physicists, biochemists, psychologists, astronomers, pathologists, medical diagnosticians--as well historians, detectives, and thinking people everywhere use this method of reasoning every day to make sense of their experiences. (p. 170)

What, then, is the alternative scientific theory to modern evolutionary theory? In the future, I will blog about this topic at a greater depth as part of this series, but for now a simple summary serves to demonstrate how intelligent design serves as a legitimate scientific theory.


The DNA molecule is an amazing source of information, not just informational capacity, but of specified information, complex digital code specifying proteins necessary to build life. Outside of DNA exists another source of specified information that directs the cell to properly assemble the parts defined by DNA. We know from experience that information and information-processing systems come from only one source: intelligence.

Consider the faces of U.S. Presidents of Mount Rushmore. These sculptures are no more complex or unlikely than the random configurations of rock in the surrounding hills. Yet nobody, unaware of the history of Mount Rushmore, would look at their faces and suspect that wind and erosion caused them. We naturally infer to the best explanation and conclude--instantaneously--that an intelligent agent created them. Why? Because unlike the equally complex and equally improbable configurations of atoms and molecules surrounding them, the faces we see specify something, they conform to a pattern recognizable to us: human faces, specifically those of former U.S. Presidents.

But it's not just information itself that we know intuitively comes from intelligent agents. We also know that information-processing systems are the products of intelligence. Consider CAD-CAM processes for designing and manufacturing parts. A human with an intelligent mind uses software to design parts, and this information is processed (translated) into information of another sort understood by machines, which interpret that information and assemble parts based on those instructions. Or consider software engineering. A human with an intelligent mind writes code in a programming language similar in certain ways to our human languages, and this information is processed (translated) by compilers into information of another sort understood by computers, which interpret that information and perform functions based on those instructions.

Thus we know that intelligence is "causally adequate" for producing information and information-processing systems--that is intelligence can create these things--and we know that it is "causally existent"--that is intelligent agents are in operation today. In order, however, to determine if intelligence is the best explanation, a third factory must be considered: the adequacy of competing theories.


The theory of life's origins that competes with intelligent design is, of course, evolutionary theory. Evolutionary biologists posit that mutations occur during the transcription and translation of DNA during reproduction, and that these mutations occur at random times and in random locations and in random ways within the DNA molecule. Yes, once produced, the process of natural selection preserves some mutations. But the origin and nature of the mutations to begin with are the products of chance. What is the chance that "chance" could produce the information in DNA?

Consider that a protein defined by a gene in DNA is comprised of a chain of amino acids. There are some 20 amino acids that form proteins, and on average a working protein is made up of some 150 amino acids. Further consider that only certain arrangements of amino acids will link and fold into a working protein. This means we can determine the odds of random processes producing such a working protein, by calculating the ratio of the number of working proteins to the number of possible sequences. The chance of such a protein occuring at random is 1 out of 10 to the 74th power.

What does that number mean? Ten to the seventy-fourth power is a 1 followed by 74 zeroes. So for every working protein 150 amino acids long, there are 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (I had to insert a space just so the number would fit in the blog) other possible amino acid sequences. That's one hundred trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion possible combinations. The odds are staggering.

To help illustrate the gravity of this number, it helps to consider that astronomers estimate that there are only 10 to the 65th total atoms in our galaxy. This is an exponentially smaller number than the number of possible combinations of 150 amino acids. What this means is, you would have an exponentially better chance of selecting a desired atom out of the entire Milky Way, than you would have at producing an average protein by random. And proponents of evolutionary theory would have us believed this lottery has been won over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.


Thus, intelligent design theory meets the qualifications of scientific explanation. It is testable in that it offers an inference to the best explanation, and indeed intelligence is "best". It is causally adequate, meaning we know intelligent agents can produce information. It is causally existent, meaning we see intelligence in operation. And its competing theory, unguided (supernaturally) evolution, doesn't adequately explain the evidence we see.

This is consistent with the Bible which teaches us that an intelligent creator designed the universe, the earth and its life, and then implemented that design by creating that which He conceived beforehand. As it is written:

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).

Scripture teaches that God decided to create man, and naturally the creation of man reflects God's conception of what man is. God conceived of man as being a creature similar to Him in certain ways, and so, the essence of mankind thus having been conceived by God, He created man. Contrary to the claims of existentialism, "essence precedes existence."

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