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Friday, July 25, 2008

Intelligent Design - Part III

Chapter Three
Detecting Intelligent Design

Until recently, no methods of detecting intelligent design existed (Dembski 2003a). The two most common methods used today are specified complexity and irreducible complexity.

Specified Complexity

Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski formulated the specified complexity method for detecting design (2004a). Objects that have these three characteristics – contingency, complexity, and specificity - are said to show design.


Something contingent is a possibility - but not the only possibility. For example, if I toss a coin with one side heads and one side tails, heads is a possibility, but so is tails. The result of the coin toss is contingent because more than one possibility exists. However, if heads is on both sides of the coin, heads is always the result and no choice exists. Therefore, natural laws explain the result because natural laws always have the same result (Intelligent Design Basics undated).

Anything that is complex has a number of interrelated parts that makes chance an improbable cause (Intelligent Design Basics undated). For example, a sentence is complex compared to a single letter in the alphabet.


This term refers to anything that follows a meaningful pattern. For example, although the letter “a” is simple and not complex, it follows a pattern: it is the first letter of the alphabet (Dembski 2003a).

Using the alphabet as an example, below is an illustration of specified complexity based on the three characteristics described above.

1. Letter "a" of the alphabet
2. Lengthy string of letters in no particular order (i.e., gbaozmt)
3. Arrangement of letters in a poem

1. Yes: 25 other choices
2. Yes: various combinations possible
3. Yes: other possible poems

1. No: too simple
2. Yes: many components
3. Yes: many components

1. Yes: always the first letter of the alphabet (pattern)
2. No: no meaningful pattern
3. Yes: follows the pattern of grammar

In all cases of specified complexity in which cause is known, intelligence is responsible (Dembski 1999; Meyer 2000).

Irreducible Complexity

Biochemist Michael Behe (1996) writes about the concept of irreducible complexity in his book Darwin’s Black Box. Behe argues that biological systems show design due to their irreducibly complex nature. If an object is irreducibly complex, it cannot be reduced to a simpler, functioning object; and the object must contain all of its parts at the same time in order to function. If any part is removed, the object will no longer work. This characteristic found in nature presents a problem for Darwinian evolution.

Darwin wrote: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down” (Behe 1996, p 39; Strobel 2004, p 197).

Behe (1996) states that since all components of a complex system must be in place at once in order to function, the system could not have possibly evolved as Darwin describes.

The Standard Mousetrap

To illustrate the concept of irreducible complexity, Behe (1996) refers to the standard mousetrap with five parts: platform, hammer, spring, catch, holding bar (See figure 3.1). If any one of these parts is missing, the trap will not function.

Table 3.2 illustrates how scientists determine if an object or system is irreducibly complex. Using the mousetrap as an example, Behe (1996) asks three questions as the following table demonstrates:

Table 3.2 Steps to Determine Irreducible Complexity

Can the scientist name the function and components of the system?
Mousetrap Characteristic
Function: trap mice
Components: platform, catch, hammer, spring, holding bar

Are all parts necessary for the object to function?
Mousetrap Characteristic
Yes – For example, if the holding bar is missing, the trap will not catch mice.

Are there any functional precursors?*
Mousetrap Characteristics
No – The trap with five parts did not “evolve” from a simpler form.

*Behe (1996) explains that other means to catch mice exist, i.e., glue traps, boxes propped with sticks, etc. However, none of these can develop into a mousetrap that includes a platform, catch, hammer, spring, and holding bar. This means the mousetrap has no functional precursors.

Figure 3.1 Standard Mousetrap
source: McDonald, John H. 2000. A reducibly complex mousetrap. Accessed 2005 March 31.

Evolutionists’ Arguments Against Mousetrap Analogy

Some evolutionists argue that the mousetrap does not demonstrate irreducible complexity. In an interview with Lee Strobel (2004), Michael Behe discusses two of those arguments as follows:

Ø It is possible to build a less complex, functioning mousetrap with fewer parts. Behe agrees; however, the point is that the mousetrap Behe refers to could not be created gradually because it would not function until all parts are fully in place.

Ø Perhaps natural selection preserved the components as they served other purposes while a complex system developed. Ken Miller, Brown University professor and evolutionist, makes this argument. In his analogy, Miller theoretically removes parts of Behe’s mousetrap and assigns functions to these components until they can develop into the mousetrap.

Some components in complex systems can have other functions. However, the question is whether or not these functions will develop into a complex system through a series of modifications over time. Behe writes: “He’s [Miller] starting from the finished product—the mousetrap—and disassembling it and moving a few things around to use them for other purposes. Again, that’s intelligent design!” (Strobel 2004, p 200).

Irreducible complexity is not the only complication for Darwinian evolution. Related to irreducible complexity is a concept called “minimal function.” For Darwin’s natural selection to work, objects must have minimal function. For example, not only does the mousetrap need all of its parts, these parts must work efficiently. If the mousetrap platform is made out of paper, the platform is too weak to support the other parts, which reduces the ability of the trap to function (Behe 1996).

We have focused on man-made objects to illustrate design. What about complex living organisms? Do they exhibit irreducible complexity and specified complexity as well?

In the next chapter, we will look at biological examples of intelligent design.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Intelligent Design - Part II

Chapter Two
History of Intelligent Design Theory

For the first 4,000 years of human history, scientists accepted the design theory. Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, and Newton all believed nature shows design (Meyer 2000).

Theologians Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and William Paley (1743-1805) argued for the existence of God based on the presence of design in nature. This philosophy is referred to as the teleological argument, natural theology, or theological design. The word “teleological” is derived from the Greek word “telos,” which means end or purpose (Richards 2004).

In 1802, William Paley published a book titled Natural Theology. In his book, Paley uses a watch to illustrate the nature of design. The parts of the watch form a complex mechanism that cannot be explained by chance. Paley argues that objects in nature exhibit the same complexity as the watch. He concludes, therefore, that nature reflects design as well (Dembski 2003a).

According to William Dembski (2003a), mathematician and philosopher, early design arguments did not rely solely on science but involved the metaphysical (supernatural) realm as well. Today’s intelligent design theorists focus on understanding how science – not the metaphysical – explains design. Intelligent design theorists look especially to molecular biology for evidence of design and rely on the latest scientific information to support their theory.

In 1859, the design argument took a backseat to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Charles Darwin

The argument for design declined in popularity when, in 1859, Charles Darwin offered an alternative explanation for the origin of life called the theory of evolution. In his book, The Origin of Species, Darwin argued that the healthiest members of a species pass down their genes to the next generations. The unfit members of a species die, and the most fit continue to reproduce. This process is called natural selection or “survival of the fittest.” Darwin argued that over time, this process produced new species (Harris and Calvert 2003).

Today, evolutionists believe an “updated” version of natural selection. They teach that random genetic mutations (errors in DNA) cause the differences seen in species. Mutations can be helpful or harmful to a species. Modern-day evolutionists claim that natural selection chooses the helpful mutations that give a species the greatest chance of survival. These traits are then passed down from generation to generation (Pittman 2003). However, mutations do not occur often enough to “account for all the hundreds of thousands of fundamentally different genes” that exist (Mondore and Mondore 2002, p 3).

Take Note
Harris and Calvert (2003) point out that the term “natural selection” is inconsistent. “Selection” implies that a choice or decision is made. However, natural selection says that events occur randomly, without purpose or intelligence. Therefore, choice and decision are excluded from the process.
Chemical Evolution – a Challenge to Design

Most biologists rejected intelligent design during the late 19th century. During this time, scientists sought to confirm Darwin’s theory of evolution through scientific experiments (Meyer 2000). In the 1870s and 1880s, scientists believed life was made out of a material called protoplasm that they could easily create by combining chemicals such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen.

Scientists Haeckel and T.H. Huxley believed a two-step process of combining and recombining chemicals created the first cell. Just as combining sodium and chloride produces salt, Haeckel and Huxley believed that combining chemicals could produce a cell. This is referred to as chemical evolution (Meyer 2000).

In 1952, a graduate student named Stanley Miller tested the chemical evolution theory. He created a small amount of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) by combining methane, ammonia, water vapor, and hydrogen – the gaseous mixture Miller believed represented the early atmosphere on Earth (Meyer 2000; Strobel 2004).

Years following Miller’s experiment, scientists determined that Miller’s assumptions of what the early Earth’s atmosphere contained was inaccurate. To date, there is no evidence that the atmosphere of the early Earth consisted of methane and ammonia (Meyer 2000).

Yet, even if Miller’s experiment were re-created using the correct atmospheric conditions, the results would yield formaldehyde and cyanide. Scientist Jonathan Wells makes this observation: “Now, it’s true that a good organic chemist can turn formaldehyde and cyanide into biological molecules” (Strobel 2004, p 38). However, Wells points out that far from representing the origin of life, these molecules represent embalming fluid – a fluid used to preserve bodies that are no longer alive.

What Miller’s experiment did demonstrate is the need for intelligent intervention. Meyer (2000) explains that in the type of experiment Miller performed, the experimenter must get involved to prevent cross-reactions that would cause the amino acids to break down. Experimenters do this by removing certain chemicals that could produce undesirable affects. Meyers gives this example: A realistic atmosphere includes both short and long wavelength light. However, experimenters often use only short wave length light because long wavelength light causes amino acids to break down.

Take Note
Miller’s experiment is still included in many textbooks in spite of its inaccuracies (Strobel 2004).
Over the years, advances in the fields of molecular biology, biochemistry, physics, and astronomy have made it difficult for scientists to dismiss intelligent design (Meyer 2000). As a result, intelligent design has increased in popularity since the end of the 20th century (Behe 1999).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Intelligent Design - Part I

I researched and wrote a booklet titled Mind Over Matter: an Introductory Guide to the Intelligent Design Theory. This material is copyrighted. I will be posting the booklet in the span of five or six blog entries.

Chapter One

Defining Intelligent Design

Imagine that you are serving as a juror in a murder trial. As the prosecuting and defense attorneys prepare to present their evidence, the judge announces that only the defense attorney can present evidence in favor of the defendant. Will you hear an accurate and complete presentation of the evidence? Of course not! Yet, this is exactly the situation that students experience today as teachers are silenced in the classrooms from presenting scientific evidence that refutes the theory of evolution.

The purpose of this guide is to introduce students to the intelligent design theory – the scientific alternative to evolution. This guide will

Ø Discuss what the intelligent design theory is – and is not
Ø Briefly trace the history of the design argument
Ø Discuss methods used to detect intelligent design
Ø Give examples of design
Ø Address evolutionists’ arguments against the intelligent design theory.

What is the theory of intelligent design?

The question every person eventually asks is “how did life begin?” The three possibilities that explain the origin of life are

Ø Natural laws
Ø Chance
Ø Intelligent design.

The evolutionary theory says that natural laws and chance alone created life (Harris and Calvert 2003). Intelligent design, “the science that studies signs of intelligence” (Dembski 2003a, p 1), says that life can be a result of all three possibilities – natural laws, chance, and design. To demonstrate how these possibilities can work together, consider what happens when someone tosses a coin. The decision to toss a coin is an act of intelligence. How the coin falls is according to a natural law – the law of gravity. The result of the coin toss (heads or tails) is left to chance (Harris and Calvert 2003).

According to Harris and Calvert (2003), many scientists have concluded – based on studying and observing the complexity in the natural world – that intelligent action best explains the origin of the universe.

While intelligent design looks for signs of intelligence in objects, it does not identify the designer’s purpose (Dembski 2003a).

Is the Theory of Intelligent Design the Same as Creationism?

We understand that designed objects – such as cars – have a designer. When we observe objects in nature that show signs of design, we can reasonably conclude that these designed objects have a designer, too. Many identify this designer as God. Does this then imply that the intelligent design theory is the same as creationism – a theory that identifies the designer as God? Although many scientists today claim that intelligent design theory is creationism, it is not.

The intelligent design theory does not name the designer (Luskin 2001). Intelligent design is not a religion, and does not refer to religious texts such as the Bible. Creationism defends a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation and supports a young Earth theory. The intelligent design theory does not (West 2002). In Uncommon Dissent, Dembski defines creationism as “a literal interpretation of Genesis in which God through special acts of creation brings the biophysical universe into existence in six literal twenty-four hour days, somewhere in the last several thousand years” (2004b, p xxiii).

The following illustrates the differences between creationism and intelligent design:

Identifies designer as God
Defends literal interpretation of Genesis
Supports young Earth model

Intelligent Design
Does not identify designer
Makes no reference to religious texts
Accepts an older Earth model

Why are evolutionists labeling the intelligent design theory as “intelligent design creationism”? Ronald Numbers, University of Wisconsin historian of science, is critical of the intelligent design theory; however, he explains that mislabeling intelligent design as intelligent design creationism is the “easiest way to discredit intelligent design” (West 2002, p 1).

Has intelligent design always been sharply criticized by scientists? In the next chapter, we will briefly trace the history of intelligent design and answer this question.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Do Unto Others

You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to be familiar with a popular phrase parents often repeat to their children: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is a paraphrase of what Jesus tells His followers: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). What we see practiced most often in the world is “Do unto others as they do unto you” – a retaliatory attitude.

Understanding the general concept of how Christians are to treat others, I was surprised to read an Internet message that claimed Christianity is evil and the catalyst of all that is wrong in the world. Perhaps this attitude should not surprise me, considering all that is done and said in the name of religion, God, or Christianity. But these things (such as the so-called Christian Crusades) are a misrepresentation of how God wants His children to behave.

So what does God expect from me as a Christian?

Jesus said that we are “blessed” when we are reviled and persecuted, when people say false evil things about us for His sake (Matthew 5:11). We need to realize that being a Christian will result in some form of persecution, because this is how people treated Jesus, His apostles, the early Christians, and the prophets before them. I learned many years ago that when a Christian publishes on the Internet messages related to God or the Bible, it won’t be long before the name-calling and attacks begin.

It’s not easy to endure mistreatment. How do we react to those who curse us? Jesus says, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). The Greek word translated “love” is “agape,” and it does not refer to a “feeling” but rather action. When we love our enemy, we are willing to do good things for them. Jesus is the ultimate example. “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-9).

Loving those who love us is easy. Jesus said even sinners do this. It doesn’t take any degree of personal character to love those who love us; however, to love and do good for those who hate and mistreat us takes strength and character.

We are to forgive others. Many families and friendships are torn apart by long-held grudges. When we refuse to forgive others, God refuses to forgive us. “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). Many years ago I read a story about a couple whose only son was murdered. Without having ever talked to their son’s murderer, the couple announced that they had “forgiven” this young man for taking their son’s life. While we should always be ready to forgive and hold no ill will towards anyone, forgiveness does require repentance. “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4).

Even if the one who sins against us doesn’t repent nor seek forgiveness, we are still to treat them – at worst – like an enemy, and LOVE them. The apostle Paul said that we are to live peaceably with all men as much as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). We can only do so much to make peace and attempt to reconcile failed relationships. But when all is said and done, we are still to follow Jesus’ example of love and sacrifice even for those who hate us.

“Getting even” or “teaching someone a lesson” were common attitudes I not only witnessed but participated in when I was a child. Wanting to strike back at someone who has hurt us can be a natural reaction. But God tells a Christian that vengeance is His. “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard [or provide] for good things in the sight of all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:17, 19).

How do we react to someone who is unkind? Do we snap back? Quoting from Proverbs, Paul writes, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Romans 12:20). One New Year’s Eve, I drove to the grocery store to pick up a few things for a party. I pulled into a parking spot and noticed that a man suddenly stopped his car behind me. As I got out of my car, he began yelling and cussing at me. Apparently I took a parking spot that he was planning to pull into, but I didn’t see him waiting for it. Instead of yelling back, I calmly apologized and told him that I didn’t see him there. I then offered to back out and let him have the parking space. He was stunned. There was silence for a moment, and then he said, “No, that’s OK. Happy New Year,” and he drove away. Obviously he was expecting a fight. Sometimes saying the right thing in the right way brings unexpected, yet pleasant, results. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). But not always! No matter what someone else’s reaction is, a Christian must not respond in a hateful manner.

Paul tells us, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good – not just for those who are nice to us or believe as we do – but to all men, with an emphasis on our Christian brothers and sisters.

Whenever I hear someone say that Christians are “evil,” I remember all that God teaches us to be….

Love our enemies
Do not seek revenge
Bless those who curse us
Pray for those who spitefully use us
Do good to those who hate us
Give food and drink to our enemies in need
In general, treat others like we want to be treated.

God's code of ethics far surpasses anything man could ever create himself. Far from being evil, treating others as God says is crucial to the well-being of humanity.