Our Information-Rich Universe Points to Intelligent Design

Double Helix

by Jonathan Wells

Bioinformation SymposiumI commend Jim Stephens for undertaking his “101 Proofs for God” project, and he’s right to target evolutionary theory and mention intelligent design (ID).

As Cornell biologist William Provine said in 1998, “Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism” (quoted in Witham, Where Darwin Meets the Bible, p. 23). Schools teach our children that materialistic Science is the best judge of truth, and Science says that evolution is a fact. By implication, God is certainly unnecessary and probably nonexistent. This attitude dominates academia from kindergarten to the doctoral level.

Of course, evolution can mean many things, some of which are uncontroversial — such as minor changes within existing species. In the 1930s, evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky called such minor changes “microevolution;” he used “macroevolution” to refer to the origin of new species, organs and body plans. According to Charles Darwin’s theory, all living things are descendants of one or a few common ancestors that have been modified by unguided processes such as variations and natural selection. Thus — theoretically — over millions of years microevolution has produced macroevolution (including the origin of human beings) without the need for design or purpose.

But Darwin did not know the mechanism of heredity or the origin of novel variations, so his theory was incomplete. After 1900, Mendelian genetics seemed to remedy the first deficiency, and after 1953, DNA mutations seemed to remedy the second. The resulting Modern Synthesis combined Darwin’s theory with the idea that organismal development is controlled by a genetic program written in DNA sequences, and that DNA mutations can change genetic programs to generate raw materials for evolution. According to molecular biologist Jacques Monod, “with that, and the understanding of the random physical basis of mutation that molecular biology has also provided, the mechanism of Darwinism is at last securely founded. And man has to understand that he is a mere accident” (quoted in Judson, Eighth Day of Creation, p. 217).

This is what our children are being taught: Not that we are created in the image of God, but that we are just accidental by-products of undirected material processes.

As Jim Stephens points out, however, the two main mechanisms in the modern version of Darwin’s theory — mutation and natural selection — lack evidence. Biologists have mutated fruit fly embryos in every possible way, in a process called “saturation mutagenesis,” and found only three possible results: a normal fruit fly, a defective fruit fly, or a dead fruit fly. Saturation mutagenesis has also been used on worms, fish and mice, with the same results.

The second mechanism, natural selection, has never been shown to produce anything more than artificial selection — which is to say, microevolution. No one has ever observed the origin of a new species by variation (mutation) and selection. This is the “ultimate missing link” in modern evolutionary theory. Without sufficient evidence for its proposed mechanism, Darwinian evolution — even in its modern forms — is only a “just-so story,” like Rudyard Kipling’s fantasies for children about how the camel got his hump and the leopard got his spots.

Darwinian evolution supposedly rules out design, but according to intelligent design theory, there is evidence in nature that some features of the world, including some features of living things, are better explained by an intelligent cause than by unguided natural processes. To put it another way, there are patterns (hence the “design”) in nature that give evidence of having resulted from teleology (hence the “intelligent”).

On this Blog, Joseph Vignolo commented the following about Jim Stephens’s project:

“I do believe in intelligent design, but without the intelligent designer. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it really isn’t. First, let us understand what intelligence really is. Everything around us is just information…. [Nature] contains certain excluded combinations, rules you could call them, that came into existence when the universe spontaneously originated… Then, over time, things interacted. A lot. It all happened over billions of years. As all this stuff got stirred up, certain combinations occasionally occurred. They possessed certain advantages and were in harmony with their environment and so they persisted and hung around. But other combinations without advantages or not in harmony with the environment perished. It was all just a big, long, bunch of trial and error, followed by a lot of failures but some occasional successes, which permitted stuff to gradually climb from a lower state of order to a higher one. Sure, it sort of seems like there was a human-like intelligent designer at work. But that’s putting the cart before the horse. It’s obvious that everything around us was intelligently designed. It happens because nature has the ability to do trial and error, to do experiments and to self-organize. This meets the definition of design. And intelligent design at that. This explains how everything got to be how it is today.”

Although I wouldn’t say that everything is “just” information, I would agree that information is more fundamental than matter. To quote from a new book by my friend and fellow intelligent design theorist William A. Dembski:

“[I]nformation is produced as some possibilities are realized to the exclusion of others.” Real material objects are always characterized by particular forms or signatures — that is, they realize some possibilities instead of others. Pure matter is an abstraction. Therefore, Dembski writes, “information should properly be regarded as the prime entity and object of science, displacing matter from its current position of eminence… Materialists see the natural world as matter all the way down. Information realists, like me, see the natural world as information all the way down.” (Being As Communion: A Metaphysics of Information, p. 91)

Dr. William Dembski describes the central thesis of his new book Being as Communion. Dembski proposes that the fundamental “stuff” of this universe is information, not matter.

Natural laws are informational. For example, the characteristics of the elements — and their arrangement in the periodic table — realize one possible set of relationships to the exclusion of other possible sets. But where did natural laws come from? One could say that they just happened (“spontaneously originated”), but saying that things just happen is not really an explanation. How does one possibility get selected, to the exclusion of others? The answer is not information, which is the result of the selection rather than its cause.

Landing on one successful possibility out of a vast number of unsuccessful possibilities requires specifying a target. In other words, it requires goal-directness, or knowing what you want before you go looking for it. Goal-directedness (teleology) is characteristic of an intelligent agent, one that can think of outcomes before they are realized. So information is not the same as intelligence; instead, information is produced by intelligence.

Intelligence is not limited to acting externally, from the outside in, as we see in human artifacts. Intelligence can also act internally, from the inside out, as we see in living organisms. But whether intelligence is external or internal, it is necessarily goal-directed. It is never just “a big, long, bunch of trial and error.”

So the “intelligent design” to which Mr. Vignolo refers is not what Dembski and I (and other ID theorists) mean by intelligent design.

Where does intelligence come from? A theist would respond that its source is God, whom we can know to a limited extent because we were created in God’s image. Mr. Vignolo calls this “the man in the cloud theory,” but surely he knows that this is a caricature — indeed, a mockery — of theism. I know hundreds of theists — Unificationists, Christians, Jews and others — and not one of them holds to anything like “the man in the cloud theory.” From a theistic perspective, our information-rich universe points to an intelligent mind that far transcends human intelligence and necessarily pre-exists it. We recognize it as intelligence because we know from our own experience what intelligence can do (and what cannot occur without it); we know it transcends us because we are incapable of creating the universe; and we know it is pre-existent because intelligence precedes information.

Mr. Vignolo rejects this explanation, because human intelligence is an evolutionary latecomer on the cosmic scene. In his view, intelligence came last, not first.

Now, that’s putting the cart before the horse.

Jonathan Wells (UTS Class of 1978) earned a Ph.D. in theology at Yale University (1986) and a Ph.D. in biology at the University of California at Berkeley (1994). He is the author of Icons of Evolution and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington.

4 thoughts on “Our Information-Rich Universe Points to Intelligent Design

  1. Very interesting (for this layman). The long march of science reintegrating with religion is complex and slow, isn’t it?

    But to me there’s a strong weakness in the overall theme of this article, to wit; the statement that information is the result of the selection, not the cause. It seems to me (speaking from the informational point of view, not my own) that as information piles up toward an evolutionary direction, it leads to and eventually precipitates an evolutionary cause. The resulting information of that evolution would indeed be the result of the selection, but the information that preceded it and “directed” it would be its proximal cause. In that way, it seems to me, those who discount intelligent design beyond the “intelligence” of mere, discrete information, find their solace. And from this point of view, they’d be correct to limit intelligent design to mere information and discount any personified creator.

    But it does beg the question: from where did the first informational “intelligence” originate? Where did the universe originate? The article is correct to poo-poo the notion that these things just happened. That, indeed, is no explanation at all but a statement of faith.

    I also think that saying goal-directedness is inherent in natural selection is a leap. As information piles up, leading toward an evolutionary moment, that in itself can be considered a directed goal, as the preponderance of information leading toward a selection is itself a slowing forming goal all on its own. Just as the preponderance of evidence in a law court begins to slowly “direct” the goal of the jury to convict or dismiss, depending, thus, the case for a personal God (from this scientific perspective) is still alarmingly weak, to me. Materialists can still easily take it apart.

    I agree with the article and point of view, but before it can put “natural” selection to bed it’s going to need stronger elements than what I read here.

  2. Since I can neither claim having a Ph.D. (much less two) nor the element of having worked many years at a leading institutional proponent of intelligent design and human exceptionalism, I’d simply like to make a couple of points.

    First, I’d have to say that I mostly agree with the comment above on the case for a personal God. The case is weak, unless, of course, one fully embraces and/or is steeped or directly linked to a long line, culturally, of Judeo-Christian folk. Some of us do or are; some do or are not.

    Further, the Bible is simply not a fact-based exposition, but one of faith. Hence, a scientific or completely objective analysis of it and its contents (or mission/providence) will inexorably, by definition, most always fall short.

    Second, as to arguments regarding “intelligence came last, not first,” “cart before the horse” and even “consciousness from the bottom up,” Unificationism seems to counter that — not the theistic branch, mind you — with “God needs man to be complete,” “God cannot be liberated without fulfillment of his ideal,” etc.

    Briefly, the question to me, at least, becomes: Where does the twain actually meet?
    The “natural” or designed” order of things all becomes fairly secondary.
    I just want, perhaps foolishly, vainly; the elusive – desire fulfilled (Proverbs 13:12).

  3. Just a note about synchronicity and because I like Jonathan a lot.

    Yesterday, I wrote a sermon that included the concept (now, be forewarned that this is a sermon! remember those things?) that Satan captured the right information with the wrong motivation. I’m into “seed” theology, with God packing information into all kinds of seeds (see Genesis 1, of course) that replicate themselves. The seed contains DNA, which is information or the Word, words being nothing but information. But when spoken by agents, information is subservient to motivation.

    If you’re still reading, another thought, from the Dembski video’s representation of information as the array of zero’s and one’s. I understand that all computer coding, i.e., information, consists of zero’s and one’s. So we have a fundamental duality underlying existence as information. Being religious and sexual in nature (a dangerous combination, though I’m a likable guy), I analogize zero and one to non-existence and existence, and female and male. But that has gotten me into a lot of trouble, so it must be wrong somewhere — though I haven’t figured out where yet.

  4. My comment on the above posts is simply to observe that three gurus that I know of (Father, Meher Baba and Ram Chandra) explain that God grew up. The root from which God developed (grew up) is the Identity-Maintaining-Quadruple-Base (centered on heart), or rather the Highest Realm of Heart that does not develop any higher, because it is already at the highest level. It is the fundamental root identity of God and, therefore, is also at the center of every existing being.

    With respect to Buddha’s experience of Enlightenment, I believe that he skipped the developmental God of Creation, and had an experience of this Central Region of Heart, which he described as the Compassionate Buddha Nature that is at the root of the Principle of the Universe. Without an object, it represents the Potential for Love. Noting this fact, Father said that the eventual appearance of human beings in the image of the God of Creation was inevitable. In other words, God’s existence, consequent growth, creation of the universe and multiplication of human beings — who grow up, was an inevitable result of the Highest Realm of Heart that remains unchanged at the root as an eternal seed.

    This eternal seed is four in nature (reference AUM as described by the Mandukya Upanishad as consisting of four states of consciousness, the transcendent or fourth state being often experienced by martial artists, healers and gurus between the in-breath and the out-breath) as testified to by the fact that Unification Thought explains the two-stage process of creation in which all things have Inner and Outer Quadruple Bases Centered on Heart and Inner and Outer Quadruple Bases Centered on the Purpose of Creation — that’s Four Quadruple Bases. As I recall, Unification Thought also mentions that the result of the Identity Maintaining two stages and the result of the Developing two stages should have give and receive action and also produce a result.

    Since the Realm of Heart transcends time and space — time being the first barrier broken in meditation (as observed by Sahaj Marg guru Ram Chandra), we conclude that the above description of reality can be verified through experience on the path of spiritual growth — as indeed it was testified to by Father, Meher Baba (in his book God Speaks) and Ram Chandra.

    Therefore, a psychological reality is at the root of physics, because there is an energetic reality relating mind and body — all the way down.

    P.S. On a graduate level physics list, the professor was explaining to a student that Coulombic repulsion is inactive between electrons in quantum states around the nucleus of an atom. The student couldn’t understand “why” this would or could be the case (this is the problem of strict materialists.) The professor simply explained that physics is an experimental science and doesn’t explain “why things are the way they are and not some other way” [paraphrased].

    In the “quantum dot” (smallest electronic component), electronically trapped electrons arrange themselves in quantum states without any nucleus of an atom to center on. One can surmise from the professor’s statement that Coulombic repulsion is also inactive in this situation. This observation, by itself, defeats strict materialism, which is at the root of the Anti-Intelligent-Design camp’s view of reality.

    In other words, the supposed law of Coulomb, that like charges repel each other, is just an early generalization that has been refined by quantum theory based on experiment. In reality, like charges don’t repel each other all the time. Father mentioned this in his explanation of why lightning strikes in the 1980s.

    Father asked, “How do all those “electrons-repelling-each-other” clump together in the clouds in such massive numbers as to allow lightning to strike?” Answer [paraphrased]: They’re not in reality repelling each other all the time. When there is no proton around for an electron to “marry”, then the electrons are relating to each other as harmonious sisters who are not repelling other. But when an electron “marries” a proton, creating harmony of a higher dimension, then this marriage is protected by the universe. The universe then generates a force (Coulomb’s Law of Repulsion) that repels an unmarried electron that might disrupt the marriage of the already married electron.

    See these diagrams on Flickr at these links:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/nordavinci/sets/72157612794700849/ (All slides)

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/nordavinci/3215908975/in/set-72157612794700849 (Food for Thought)

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/nordavinci/3216760734/in/set-72157612794700849 (Original Mind)

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/nordavinci/3215908851/in/set-72157612794700849 (Love, Life, Lineage, Conscience)

    And a neat photo with a gazillion orbs at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nordavinci/7561226016/

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