Stand to Reason on Intelligent Design

Over at the Stand To Reason blog, Amy Hall writes about Intelligent Design, just in time for Judgment Day.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the position of intelligent design is so difficult to understand.

Whoa, let’s stop right there. The problem with ID is not that it’s difficult to understand. It’s quite easy to understand, which is why it’s so easy to understand that ID is superstition rather than science. And Amy is just about to provide us with a typical example.

The claim is that there are certain observable effects that only result from an intelligent source.

Quite so, and it’s also a claim with no scientific justification.  In order to prove that the observable effects only result from an intelligent source, you must first prove that no other source could produce the same effect. ID, however, can only appeal to our current ignorance about exactly how some of those other causes could and do work. Amy’s example is a case in point.

For example, the specific, complex, meaningful information we find in DNA is spelled out by the four “letters” (chemical bases), A, G, C, and T.  The letters are arranged to communicate a blueprint that directs the development of the cell.  There is no physical, natural property inherent in the chemical bases that determine their arrangement into a meaningful pattern any more than the properties of ink and paper cause letters to naturally organize themselves into recognizable words on a page.

Now let’s think about this for a moment. The claim is that any “meaningful” pattern in DNA has to be the result of an intelligent source, because no physical properties of the chemical bases could produce the sequence. Presumably when Amy says “meaningful pattern” she means a pattern that produces a functional result, such as building a protein or regulating protein synthesis or some such. So the claim is that no natural process can produce a DNA molecule with the chemical bases arranged in functional patterns.

That’s a problem because that means that every time a cell reproduces and creates new DNA molecules, the new molecule has to come from an intelligent source. Each and every DNA molecule has to be produced by direct, intelligent interaction. No natural set of properties and processes can produce it. New DNA molecules can only be produced by intelligent design.

That’s nonsense, of course. Intelligent Design proponents like Amy don’t really believe that God hand-crafts each and every new DNA molecule by intelligent, supernatural invention. For one thing, that would make God the responsible party for each and every deleterious mutation that appeared in any new DNA molecule. If something is messed up in your chromosomes, God didn’t just allow it, He actively caused it, and bears sole responsibility.

Unfortunately, if you’re going to deny that natural processes are capable of stringing together chemical bases in functional patterns, you must also deny the whole natural process by which new DNA molecules are produced. We know that nature can assemble new DNA molecules out of simpler compounds. We know that this happens every time an individual cell reproduces–without any detectable intelligent intervention. So the claim that such things can only be produced by intelligent sources is, at best,  a claim based on ignorance.

The typical comeback is that, sure, nature can produce DNA now. But that’s because it’s pre-programmed to reproduce itself. Intelligence is still needed to start the process running.

Well, no. In the first place, what has our purported Intelligent Designer got to work with? If he/she/it/they are not going to manually intervene to create each individual DNA molecule, there has to be some way the molecules can produce themselves. That means the mechanism has to be built out of the properties and processes of nature. Even with an Intelligent Designer, you still find that nature, and natural processes, have to be capable of producing new DNA molecules, and not just new copies of existing molecules either.

John Scalzi recently visited the new $27M creation museum in Kentucky and took this photo of  the exhibit that says most of the species that we see today are descended from a relatively small number of common ancestral pairs on board the ark. Even if we didn’t know from modern observation that new species arise by descent with modification from older species, the Flood story itself would tell us that DNA, obeying the normal laws and processes of nature, gives rise to new types of DNA, new functional patterns in the chain of chemical bases.

Amy wants us to think that DNA can only be explained by an Intelligent Creator, but the facts we can verify fail to support that claim, and indeed suggest quite the contrary. Intelligent Design is not science, and does not want to do science. It is a constellation of three intellectual failures: ignorance, denial, and superstition. Ignorance, because it bases its case on what we don’t know about abiogenesis. Denial, because it contradicts the things we do know about science, and/or denies that such things exist. And superstition, because it arbitrarily assigns credit for things to an unverifiable source, without being able to document a connection between the alleged cause and the observed effect, and indeed without even being able to suggest what such a connection might consist of if it could be verified.

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