Is there only one Designer of life or are their multiple designers? Here is James Shapiro’s take: Bacteria are small but not stupid:
Cognition, natural genetic engineering, and sociobacteriology
Bacteria as natural genetic engineers….
This remarkable series of observations requires us to revise basic ideas about biological information processing and recognize that even the smallest cells are sentient beings.
In the case of engineered products we often might think of designers (plural) versus a designer (singular). It may be that some Ultimate Intelligence created the universe and (by way of extension) engineers. But even for those of us who accept that there is an Ultimate Intelligence, it is not customary to say that God made automobiles and airplanes and genetically engineered food.
Can we find proximal sources of intelligent design of life without appealing directly to the Ultimate Intelligence? Even though I personally believe God was the Ultimate Creator of the universe and hence even the creator of the Wright Brothers, I generally still identify airplanes as the proximal intelligent design of the Wright Brothers. A similar issue may arise in identifying the Designer or designers of life on Earth.
Whether out of sincerity or parody, Richard Hoppe of PandasThumb suggests his own ID theory: Multiple Designer Theory (MDT). MDT is certainly true of a grand undertaking such as the design of a space ship. But what about life on Earth? Some have proposed an alien civilization as the source of life on Earth (Crick, Orgel, Hoyle, Klyce, others). Now Shapiro enters the fray. Below is the full abstract. I encourage reading the entire paper and visiting James Shapiro’s website: here.
ABSTRACT: 40 years experience as a bacterial geneticist have taught me that bacteria possess many cognitive, computational and evolutionary capabilities unimaginable in the first six decades of the 20th Century. Analysis of cellular processes such as metabolism, regulation of protein synthesis, and DNA repair established that bacteria continually monitor their external and internal environments and compute functional outputs based on information provided by their sensory apparatus. Studies of genetic recombination, lysogeny, antibiotic resistance and my own work on transposable elements revealed multiple widespread bacterial systems for mobilizing and engineering DNA molecules. Examination of colony development and organization led me to appreciate how extensive multicellular collaboration is among the majority of bacterial species. Contemporary research in many laboratories on cell-cell signaling, symbiosis and pathogenesis show that bacteria utilize sophisticated mechanisms for intercellular communication and even have the ability to commandeer the basic cell biology of Ã¢â‚¬Å“higherÃ¢â‚¬Â plants and animals to meet their own needs. This remarkable series of observations requires us to revise basic ideas about biological information processing and recognize that even the smallest cells are sentient beings.
Whether bacteria have conscious minds is a curious issue, but I have often said at the very least, bacteria evidence weak AI. Is AI (Artificial Intelligence) still intelligence? Yes, in a manner of speaking. In the book, No Free Lunch by Bill Dembski, there is a statement that could be considered inclusive of weak AI provided that weak AI functions as a surrogate of real intelligence (RI):
the designer or some surrogate
I personally subscribe to a quasi multiple-designer hypothesis, with other sources of intelligence (both AI and RI) playing a minor role to the Ultimate Designer (but I emphasize that is a personal view). Whether bacteria are conscious beings is something we may not ever know, but I think the idea that bacteria have weak AI is very defensible, and hence in a sense bacteria are among the designers of life today.
Finally, humans are partial designers of life today as well (via genetic engineering). This is so undeniable that even Dawkins was forced to admit it at the end of his Salon interview with Gordy Slack The Atheist
I think it well may be that we’re living in a time when evolution is suddenly starting to become intelligently designed.