Recently I wrote an article about where disbelief in Darwin leads. It generated a lot of good discussion. Now I’d like to pose the question where does the pursuit of science, in particular the quest for material explanations of life, lead?
I just began reading Mike Gene’s book The Design Matrix: A Consilience of Clues. It’s pretty good so far but I’m only in the first section. A point Gene makes early is that evolution and design are mutually exclusive only at the fringes where dogmatic belief trumps empirical evidence. If one takes the evidence of an old earth and descent with modification at face value, not proof positive that it happened that way, but as the most likely scenario, it still leaves plenty of room for design in the picture. This generally leaves 6-day creationists at irreconcilable difference with positive atheists – the fringes of opposed dogmatic beliefs. The strident conflict between the two is all most people know about. For the rest of us who don’t fall into either of those two camps it leaves the roles of evolution by chance and evolution by design as open questions where the two processes are both possible and not mutually exclusive. I’m in complete agreement and to me it seems self-evident.
A second point that Gene makes is by way of analogy. He uses the “Face on Mars” as an example. In the 1970’s a spacecraft was sent to Mars to take close up pictures of it. One of them revealed a rather stark image of a human-like face carved onto the top of a large plateau. As you might imagine this generated a lot of conjecture that an intelligent race much like ourselves once lived on Mars. H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” was remade into a newer movie and enjoyed great box office success. Years later when another photographic mission was dispatched, this one with much higher resolution cameras on board, the “face” in greater detail disappeared and it became apparent it was just a mountain top that when seen in the right light from the right distance and angle resembled a face. Gene goes on to point out that the history of thought, beginning thousands of years ago and continuing today, on the matter of design or non-design of life is like the story of the Face of Mars, but with a different ending. Thousands of years ago the greatest detail we had in the picture of life was macroscopic. Things like the eye could be examined and it appeared to be designed. Some scientists and philosophers of the time believed that this was an illusion of design and that in greater detail the illusion would disappear, just like the illusion of the Face on Mars disappeared. By Darwin’s time there were microscopes that revealed an eye composed of tiny membranous sacks filled with an amorphous, unorganized mass of jelly (protoplasm). At that point it was thought enough detail was revealed to unmask the illusion of design – life viewed in detail was just sacks of unordered chemical soup. The “primordial soup” theory of the origin of life was thus conceived.
However, since Darwin’s time, really beginning about a hundred years after Darwin, even greater detail of what’s in the cell was revealed. To this day the more detail that is exposed the greater the order we see and so too the greater the appearance of design. In fact we now see a molecular world inside the cell that resembles nothing more than a highly ordered factory with all sorts of different machines and assembly lines and conveyor belts. Waste disposal machines, energy generating machines, coded information storage and retrieval systems, self-repair machinery, self-defense machinery, all of it interdependent and so complex we’ve barely scratched the surface in understanding how it all works. At every level of increasing detail it remains highly ordered and we’re looking at the atomic level in some cases. The order just doesn’t disappear no matter how much detail we get.
This is where the pursuit of science has led and continues to lead. No matter how much more detail we get all we see is more and more order, more and more appearance of design. Unlike the Face on Mars where closer inspection unmasked the illusion of design closer inspection of living things only serves to make design more apparent. In the case of the cellular machinery of life it’s so starkly apparent it boggles the mind. The atheists don’t want you see design but in the pursuit of science they can’t help it. The pursuit of science leads to a stark picture of incredible order and complexity which no open minded person, such as Mike Gene or myself, can possibly construe into anything but a strong design inference. And it just keeps getting stronger. It is leading away from 6-day creation to be sure and the atheists are besides themselves in joy at that but it’s also leading straight to design and purpose in life and they’re far from thrilled about that. So I cheer the pursuit of science on with a passion. Just leave the atheist or theist dogma out of it. Science is about unbiased observation and explanation (pursue the evidence wherever it leads) not dogmatic interpretations of the evidence contorted to fit religious or irreligious world views. The evidence is leading to purposeful intelligent design so bring it on. The more the better! Tease out the detailed workings of nature. More power to it. I’m not at all afraid of where the evidence is leading. It’s leading to right where I thought it would lead and I love being proven right. Vindication is sweet.