Does the New Scientific Evidence about the Origin of Life Put an End to Darwinian Evolution?/Program 4

By: Dr. Stephen Meyer; ©2011
In our previous sessions, we’ve seen the competing views concerning life’s origins and that the most likely option is an outside Intelligent Designer as the source for the information in the human cell. In this session, we’ll review some of these conclusions and share the power the Intelligent Design view has for our lives and for our world today.



Today, the most important questions of life: Where did we come from? How did we get here? What brought us into existence. Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species, admitted that he did not know how the first cell came into existence, but speculated that somehow a few simple chemicals combined and the first primitive cell emerged from the primordial waters of the early earth. But today Darwin’s evolutionary assumptions are being challenged by molecular biologists, as scientists have discovered that the human cell is not simple, but complex beyond belief. One tiny cell is a microminiaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up of more than one hundred-thousand million atoms. In the nucleus of each cell is the DNA molecule which contains a storehouse of 3 billion characters of precise information in digital code. This code instructs the cell how to build complex-shaped molecules called proteins that do all the work, so that the cell can stay alive. Where did this precise information in DNA come from? Is it the product of purely undirected natural forces? Or is it the product of an Intelligent Designer? Bill Gates, of Microsoft, has said, “Human DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any we’ve ever created.” Today, you’ll learn why the digital code embedded in DNA in the human cell, is compelling evidence of an Intelligent Designer. My guest is Dr. Stephen Meyer, co-founder of the Intelligent Design Movement in the world; graduated with his PhD degree in the Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University. We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’ve got a great one for you today. My guest is Dr. Stephen Meyer, Philosopher of Science, who got his PhD from Cambridge University in England, has written a best-selling book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. Some of you might be saying, John, why are you doing a program on Intelligent Design? I mean, I mean it’s easy to believe that, you know, a super-intelligence God created the universe, our world, plants, animals and human beings, I mean, you know, everybody believe that don’t they? Unfortunately they don’t and it’s not being taught in our schools and universities. And I’d like you to hear an example from the new atheists, which are basically spreading the view that our schools and universities already accept, a materialistic, naturalistic view of the world – that life and world appear to be designed, but it’s really not. Alright. And here is Richard Dawkins talking about this, there’s a garden but no gardener – it looks designed, but it’s not designed. I’d like you listen.

Dawkins: When we go into a garden and we see how beautiful it is and we see colored flowers and we see the butterflies and the bees, of course it’s natural to think there must be a gardener. Any fool is likely to think there must be a gardener. The huge achievement of Darwin was to show that that didn’t have to be true. It seems so obvious that if you’ve got a garden there must be a gardener who created it and all that goes with that. what Darwin did was to show the staggeringly counter-intuitive fact that not only can this be explained by a undirected process, it’s not chance, by the way, entirely wrong to say it’s chance. It’s not chance, natural selection is the very opposite of chance and that’s the essence of it, that was what Darwin discovered. he showed, not only a garden, but everything in the living world and in principle, not just on this earth, but on any other planet wherever you see the organized complexity that we understand that, that we call life, that it has an explanation which can derive it from simple beginnings by comprehensible, rational means. That is possibly the greatest achievement that any human mind has ever accomplished. not only did he show that it could be done, I believe that we can argue that the alternative is so unparsimonious and so counter to the laws of common sense that reluctant as we might be because it might be unpleasant for us to admit it, although we can’t disprove that there is a God, it is very, very unlikely indeed.

Ankerberg: Alright, you heard that. Before Stephen comments on that, I want you to see the opposite viewpoint. I want you to actually see some of the scientific evidence about the complexity of the cell and I want you to make your own judgment. Science has found that the cell is incredibly complex and follows very specific code that allows it to do its work. And the question is, where did the information in this code come from in the first place? I want you to see how complex this is. Watch this.

Video clip

Narrator: In 1957 Francis Crick first proposed that chemicals called bases along the spine of the DNA molecule function as alphabetic characters in a written language or digital characters in a machine code. This short animation shows how the digital code embedded in DNA directs the building of proteins.
First a large protein complex separates the tightly wound strands of the DNA to prepare to be copied. During this process known as “transcription”, another machine called a polymerase copies these instructions, producing a single stranded copy of the original instructions known as messenger RNA. Now we see the polymerase in action from the outside as it spits out the messenger RNA transcript.
The slender RNA strand then carries the genetic information through a molecular machine called “the nuclear pore complex” – a gatekeeper, that controls the traffic in and out of the cell nucleus.
Now we see the messenger RNA strand is directed to a two part molecular factory called a ribosome. After attaching itself securely, the process of translation begins.
Inside the ribosome, a molecular assembly line begins building a specifically sequenced chain of amino acids in accord with the instructions on the transcript.
These amino acids are transported from other parts of the cell and linked into specific chains often hundreds of units long.
The precise sequential arrangement of the amino acids determines the type of protein manufactured.
When the construction of the amino acid chain is finished, it is moved from the ribosome to a barrel shaped machine that helps fold the protein into the precise shape required to perform its function.
After the chain is folded into a protein, it is then released and shepherded by another molecular machine, to the exact location where it is needed to do its job in the cell.

Ankerberg: Now, folks, what you are watching was what happens in one cell and you have trillions of cells in your body and that stuff is going on right now. The fact is, do you think that that just appears to be designed or it is designed. Does it show intelligence to you? Now, Stephen, I want you to comment on both of those. First of all, Richard Dawkins, and then what you saw in terms of the cell there and then I want you to give me the main thesis, the main argument that you have for Intelligent Design and then we’re going to look at the objections that have been raised against that and I want you to answer them. But start us off.
Meyer: Well, what you’re getting from Dawkins, in this quote, is the standard 19th century Darwinian perspective, which is that there is an undirected process called natural selection that can mimic the powers of a designing intelligence and thereby, as he put it, explain everything in the living world. Now, that is hotly contested today in modern biology. In the 19th century what Darwin was able to explain was modest small-scale variation. We’ve got lots of examples of that, that show that natural selection is a real process that can produce real effects – like the finch beaks, they get a little bigger, a little smaller, they change their shape in response to different environmental conditions and in the process, cause different varieties of finches to be better adapted to their environment. But there’s lots of things that natural selection and random mutation may not be able to explain and in biological evolution, there’s lots of doubt now about whether the process can explain the big changes in life, the fundamentally new forms of life that arise in the history of life, like birds, in the first place. But, even if you accept that Darwinian evolution can account for this large-scale evolutionary change, there’s an even more fundamental problem that Dawkins himself has acknowledged and that is the origin of the first life. Darwin never attempted to explain it and Dawkins has acknowledged publicly that there is no adequate, undirected evolutionary mechanism to explain the origin of the first life. So, every living thing in the world has not been explained by undirected mechanisms or natural selection. And in particular what we now know is that it hasn’t explained the origin of information. And that’s the key problem at the root of the origin of life. And that’s what is the real problem that Dawkins hasn’t addressed.
Ankerberg: Stephen, the folks that are watching right now, they want to know, what is the main thesis of Intelligent Design? You saw the cell and you’re drawing conclusions from that cell and other aspects of nature and what is it in a clear succinct way?
Meyer: Well, the argument that I’m making is that the information that’s encoded in the DNA molecule points decisively to an intelligent cause, not an undirected natural process. And let me relate that to Dawkins attempt to explain away design. Let’s just imagine some different types of gardens, you could have something that’s kind of overgrown and may have been produced by just the natural scattering of seeds; or what if you had a garden that’s chock-full of information?
I actually had that experience a couple of years ago, where I was going into Victoria harbor, where there was a hillside with red and yellow flowers, caught my attention, I whipped off, out my glasses, took a closer look and immediately realized that a gardener had been at work. This was Intelligent Design that was at work because it wasn’t just a random scatter of red and yellow flowers, it was a garden that was full of information. In fact the flowers spelled out the message – Welcome to Victoria.
Now, Dawkins talks about an appeal to common sense. Well, what he’s really talking about is a principle of reasoning that Darwin himself used, that when we’re trying to explain an event in the remote past, we should be looking for a cause which is known to produce the effect in question. Neither natural selection, acting on random mutations, or any other undirected mechanism has accounted for the origin of the information necessary to produce the first life. And yet we know that life is full of information, like that garden in Victoria. Or we actually saw the way the information directs the construction of proteins, in that animation you showed a minute ago. So we’re not looking at just kind of a random and disorganized garden, we’re looking at one that is chocked-full of information and what we know from experience is that information always comes from an intelligent source.
Now there’s an information scientist who made the, the observation that information is habitually associated with conscious activity. Well, that’s a correct observation based on our experience, which is the basis of all scientific reasoning, but it has stunning implications when we start to talk about DNA. Bill Gates has said that DNA is like a software program, only much more complex than any we have ever created – that’s the garden chocked-full of information. Now, that’s suggested because we know from experience that it takes a programmer to make a program. We know generally that information always comes from an intelligent source, whether we’re talking about an arrangement of flowers or a headline in a newspaper, or a paragraph in a book, or a hieroglyphic inscription, like on the Rosetta stone for example, or information imbedded in a radio signal. Whenever we see information and we trace it back to its source, we always come to an intelligence, not an undirected process.
Now, neither Dawkins, not anyone else working on evolutionary biology has been able to offer an alternative explanation for information. Sure, there’s minor adaptations that we know natural selection can produce. But the fundamental changes in life which require information and especially the origin of life itself, which requires information in the form of the code in DNA, that hasn’t been explained by any undirected process that can mimic the powers of a designing intelligence, instead the only cause we know of in the whole of the universe that can produce information is intelligence, so the discovery of information, the foundation of life is decisive evidence of actual design of Intelligent Design, not an undirected process that merely mimics design.
Ankerberg: Stephen, what we want to talk about now is the objections to Intelligent Design and one of the first ones that comes up all the time, is some object by saying Intelligent Design does not qualify as science. What about that?
Meyer: Well, that’s essentially an attempt to classify the argument or the theory. The people want to say is it science, is it religion, is it philosophy, is it history? Well, my response to that first of all is it really doesn’t matter what it is, how you classify the theory or an idea, what we want to know about an idea is whether or not it’s true. And I made a case that there’s strong evidence for Intelligent Design, however you classify it. But secondly, I would say there’s every good reason to classify it as a scientific theory, in particular a historical scientific theory about what happened in the past, about what caused life to arise, and the reason I would say that is that in making my case for Intelligent Design, I use a standard, historical, scientific method, in fact, the very method of scientific reasoning that Darwin himself used in the origin of species. The method had a name, it’s called “the method of multiple competing hypotheses” or “the method of inferring to the best explanation”, and Darwin used that.
And the method works like this, you propose, there’s something you want to explain, in the past, you propose a number of competing causes, you evaluate each one against our experience to see which one best explains the evidence and then you infer that cause which would best explain the evidence. That’s exactly the method I used in making the case for Intelligent Design, based on the presence of information in DNA. As I examined different methods or different possible causal explanations, I found there was only one cause that was known to produce the effect in question, namely digital code or information and that cause is intelligence.
So, I used Darwin’s method of scientific reasoning to come to a non-Darwinian conclusion. But what follows from that is that if my method of reasoning, if my way for making the case for Intelligent Design is unscientific, then Darwin’s way of making the case for his theory in the origin of species is unscientific as well. I don’t think anyone really wants to say that, which is another way of saying that maybe these definitional questions don’t really matter, but to the extent they do Intelligent Design has every bit as much claim on being as scientific as its evolutionary competitors.
Ankerberg: Alright, Stephen, many people say the second objection is this, is that Intelligent Design is really an argument from ignorance, we just don’t know what the naturalistic causes are right now for the origin of life, but someday we probably will and so in the meantime, you’ve developed this mysterious theory of Intelligent Design to replace what we don’t know. What do you say?
Meyer: Well, you’ve said the objection very well and I have a sometimes debating partner named Michael Shermer who raises this objection every time, in fact, I brought one of the quotes, that, a quote from Shermer in which he makes the objection. He says something very similar, he says, “Intelligent Design argues that life is too specifically complex, that’s another way of talking about information, to have evolved by natural forces, therefore life must have been created by an Intelligent Designer”.
Let’s represent his argument logically and see what he’s saying. He’s claiming that what we are saying is simply that we don’t know of a cause; therefore it must be intelligently designed. We don’t know of a naturalistic process, which I represent on the slide with the symbol NP, that can produce the effect in question, which we present with the symbol E, since we don’t have a natural process that can produce the effect in question, therefore it must be this mysterious thing called Intelligent Design. But that’s not the way we’re arguing. That’s not the way I’m arguing in Signature in the Cell.
My argument is that we don’t know of a natural process that can produce the effect in question, true that’s part of the argument, but we do know of a cause that’s capable of producing the effect in question. The effect in question again, is information, specified complexity, specific functional information. We do know of a cause that can produce that, it’s intelligence. Therefore, based on what we know, not what we don’t know, but what we know about the cause and effect structure of the world, intelligence is the best explanation for the origin of the information we see in DNA. It’s not an argument from ignorance, it’s an argument based on our present knowledge of the cause and effect structure of the world.
So, he’s misrepresenting our argument in claiming it’s an argument from ignorance. And other people who say, well, Intelligent Design is just a “God of the gaps” argument are making essentially the same claim. “God of the gaps” is another way of saying you’re arguing from ignorance. We’re not arguing from ignorance, we’re arguing based on what we know. Imagine if you were talking about, if you’re an archeologist and you discovered the Rosetta stone, and you start analyzing all those inscriptions and you realize, hey this was produced by a scribe, this is information, it’s not just erosional marks from water and wind. No one would say you had committed a scribe of the gaps fallacy. No, you’re making an inference to intelligence based on what we know only intelligence can produce. That only is information and so we would make that inference on any other realm of experience, and to claim that there’s something illicit about making it in biology is really special pleading.
Ankerberg: Alright, Stephen, another objection comes from Michael Shermer in Why Darwin Matters, and he says this, “Junk DNA basically disproves Intelligent Design.” He says, “Rather than being intelligently designed, the human genome looks more and more like a mosaic of mutations – fragment copies, borrowed sequences, and discarded strings of DNA that were jerry-built over millions of years of evolution.” What do you say to that?
Meyer: Well, yeah, that’s a common argument we hear. If the information, if the genome is intelligently designed, why is there so much junk DNA, DNA that doesn’t code for proteins that apparently has no function? And, in fact, this is a strange objection because we now know that junk DNA isn’t junk at all. In fact, what we know about the non-coding regions of the genome is that overall, they function much like an operating system in a computer that is directing the timing and expression and regulation and use of the other information, the data files that code for proteins.
And, I’ve actually brought with me a short list of some of the functions of DNA that have been discovered. And I thought it might be interesting for your audiences to read them. So called junk DNA, not junk, it’s functional. Here’s a short list of functions: it regulates DNA replication; it regulates the process of transcription; it marks sites for programmed rearrangements of genetic material; it influences the proper folding and maintenance of chromosomes; and it controls the interactions of chromosomes within what’s called, “the nuclear membrane” and “the nuclear matrix”. So, that’s just 5, but I’ve got 5 more for you – top 10, it’s like David Letterman, okay, top 10 functions of junk DNA. Also controls RNA processing, editing, and splicing junk DNA, which is not junk, again, modulates the translation process, that’s what we were seeing in that beautiful animation earlier in the program; it regulates embryological development; it repairs DNA and it also aids in the immune defense of the cells. So this is just a short list of 10 of the functions that have been discovered for the so-called junk DNA. It’s not junk and the whole argument against Intelligent Design based upon the alleged non-functionality of the junk DNA is just wrong factually.
Ankerberg: Alright, one minute left. We want to ask the question, that a lot of people say, well, you know the judge up there in the Dover case said this is really religion masquerading as science.
Meyer: Well, again, there’s every good reason to think Intelligent Design is a scientific theory, it uses a standard method of scientific reasoning that was used by Darwin himself. Secondly, we don’t really look to federal judges to decide deep and imponderable questions in the philosophy of science, about the nature and definition of science. That’s actually something that philosophers of science do, that’s their specialty. I happen to be one of those people and I know that there’s every good reason to think that Intelligent Design does meet the standard definitions of science.
But, more importantly the claim that Intelligent Design is religion raises an important distinction that we should make, and that is between the bases of the theory of Intelligent Design and its implications. I would concede that Intelligent Design has implications that are friendly to religious belief, because most theistic systems of belief, affirm that there is some of an intelligent creator or designer of some kind, and Intelligent Design affirms that.
But it’s important to point out that Intelligent Design is not based on religion, it’s not an interpretation of the biblical text, it’s not based on religious authority, it’s based on the discoveries of modern science, particularly discoveries in modern molecular biology, and it’s based on standard methods of scientific reasoning that have been established long before the theory came along, by the likes of Darwin and Newton and other, other great scientists. So, it’s based on science, based on scientific reasoning, but it may have larger religious implications, in fact, I think it does, but that doesn’t disqualify the theory from being true. You don’t say whether or not a theory is true because you like or don’t like its implications. It would be totally wrong for me to say that Darwinism is true because many scientists think it leads to atheism. You have to evaluate a theory based on the evidence, and whether the evidence is sufficient to support the claim. And I would argue that the case for Intelligent Design is very strong based on the evidence, and so whether it has religious implications or not is irrelevant to our assessment of the theory.
Ankerberg: Next week more about the evidence that points to Intelligent Design.


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