Intelligent Design: the beauty and mystery of a butterfly

February 05, 2014
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By Jasbir T. Singh |

After watching the breathtaking video (below) of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, one can't help but wonder and appreciate its magnificence.

The developmental biologist and philosopher of biology in the video describe the metamorphosis as a masterful piece of engineering design resulting in two drastically different body plans all rolled into one. The caterpillar's body plan undergoes radical transformations in the heart, antenna, reproductive organs, eyes, brain, gut, etc.. It suggests the involvement of masterful planning, foresight, artistry, and engineering in order to produce something so incredibly sophisticated.
"For evolution to have created this pathway would take a miracle." -- Ann Gauger, Developmental Biologist, Biologic Institute

We humans have learned so much more about science over the one hundred and fifty years since Darwin published his theory of natural selection in the Origin of Species. According to Dr. Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, if Darwin were alive today, he would have been disappointed to learn that his greatest doubts continue to this day due to gaps in the fossil record and the problem of the Cambrian explosion. This is the subject of Meyer's book, Darwin's Doubt.

Darwin's Doubt

If you don't have eighty minutes to listen to Dr. Meyer in the above audio clip, he basically points out that there still remains no explanation for the Cambrian explosion, and for the rise of so many varieties of organisms that appeared suddenly into the fossil record without any known precursors. It was a very abrupt biological event in geological time.

Mechanisms of natural selection, population genetics, and evolutionary biology can estimate how much time is needed for new species to arise, and it turns out that these calculations compute to incredibly long waiting times; much longer than the time span within the Cambrian explosion. He claims that today's science seems to refute Darwin and generates a great mystery. People may not be aware that Darwin himself admitted that his theory had weaknesses, hence his own doubt. I am looking forward to reading Meyer's book.

Information found in nature

In the next video (below), Dr. Meyer offers us a very interesting analogy. He describes biological information stored within DNA akin to digital information that is so prevalent today. Darwin had no knowledge about this in the late 19th century. Today, we know that the binary system of bits and bytes contain digital information, which is necessary to run computer programs. In the case of living things, the four bases (A, G, T, and C) within DNA contain all the information required for the development of organisms.

I've tried to spell out the analogy more explicitly in the table below. Computer geeks will recognize the left-hand column, and biology nerds will recognize the right-hand column.

A=Adenine, G=Guanine, T=Thymine, C=Cytosine
You'll notice in the table above that the column on the right makes reference to an intelligent designer (unknown) who wrote the blueprints for life. This is the hypothesis of the intelligent design (ID) movement. Proponents of ID don't make reference to God. The movement says that it uses the same scientific method that Darwin used, and that all evidence would seem to suggest an intelligent cause without invoking any biblical references or God. The method of reasoning in religion is different because it uses deduction and interpretation from biblical authority, whereas proponents of ID make inferences strictly from scientific evidence.
We have information, we have a program, maybe there's a programmer. 

Meyer claims that nobody has yet come up with an explanation for the information found in nature. Chemistry and physics alone don't explain information. There must have been a cause for the generation of information, and it is reasonable to suggest that this cause could be a mind. The argument is based on scientific discovery and uses the same method of reasoning that Darwin used. At the very least, the existence of information within DNA, and the circuitry necessary to produce a body plan are indicators of intelligence.

Collins critiques intelligent design but believes in theistic evolution

In his book, The Language of God, Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, explains that faith in God and faith in science can be harmonious; combined into one worldview. He subscribes to theistic evolution, and has coined a new term for it, BioLogos (Chapter 10, Option 4: BioLogos (Science and Faith in Harmony).

Indeed many credible scientists in the world are also believers in God.

Collins explains  that there is no conflict in accepting evolution while believing in God. This can be reconciled because God, who exists outside of space and time, could have easily created the mechanisms for evolution, and could have made it appear to us to be a random and undirected process: directed from God's perspective, but undirected from human perspective.

In Chapter 9 of the book, Collins critiques intelligent design and says that it remains a fringe activity with little credibility within the scientific community for the following reasons:
  1. Intelligent design fails to qualify as a scientific theory. There is no framework for making sense of experimental observations, with the aim to look forward rather than only looking back. In this regard, intelligent design remains a hypothesis and does not predict other findings. In a nutshell, once an intelligent designer has been invoked, there is nothing further to explore.

  2. Intelligent design doesn't provide a mechanism by which an intelligent designer or supernatural intervention would give rise to complexity.

  3. The main argument of irreducible complexity may not last because mainstream scientists are showing that many examples of irreducible complexity are not irreducible after all (in other words they are reducible).
While I don't disagree with Collins, I don't think his views reduce intelligent design to a mere fad. Even if intelligent design does not fit into mainstream science, I still respect it as another body of knowledge, which offers a unique perspective. It should not be so easily dismissed.

Meyer makes some good points. While Darwin's theory of natural selection does offer a good explanation for the minor variations within species, it does not address the origin of form (origin of species) or the arrival of new species with unique body plans in the Cambrian explosion.

Science does not have a claim on all the knowledge that exists in the world

I love science, and really enjoyed studying it at university. It offered theories and reasonable explanations as to HOW things came to be. Unfortunately it left me with a lot of questions still unanswered, and deep down I knew that science didn't have ALL the answers. When faced with the larger question: WHY, rather than HOW, the only place to look for answers was to religion. The way I see it, to believe in science alone is very limiting.

I submit to you that for a well rounded understanding of the world, religion too must be studied and impartially considered on its own merits. For me, the best and most reasonable answers came from Catholicism. Contrary to secular belief, there is no conflict, and has never been any conflict, between science and the Church. A believer can subscribe to a religion, and at the same time accept the evidence of science. Below is a diagram I made which, I think, captures all the areas of knowledge in which both faith and reason exist. I don't think it is wise to exclude everything outside of the light blue circles.

Broadening one's perspective may provide an even greater understanding and appreciation of the beauty of a butterfly.

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