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Intelligent Design

I have yet to read or hear an intelligent discussion on intelligent design.  All of the parties who publically discuss this topic have too much invested in a particular outcome.  Religious people want to prove that the particular god they believe in exists, and that their god created the universe, which includes the earth and all life on the earth.  Educators are concerned that Creationists will insert creationist theories into their school curriculums.  Evolutionary scientists come from a background in which god was an impediment to pure science, and they don’t want to have anything to do with the concept of god.  In fact, right now there is no place for the concept of god in science.  Scientists who are religious leave god to the realm of metaphysics; they don’t want god inserted into science.  They would not know how to include god in scientific studies even if they were so inclined.

Years ago I read a book, whose title I have unfortunately forgotten, written by an agnostic scientist about how evolution often seems to follow a design.  One of the examples I remember him using was the development of the eye, and how various parts of the eye developed over millions of years prior to the organism fully functioning for sight.  Some of this development could not be explained by evolutionary scientists.  For example the soft spot in the head where the eye would eventually be; this soft spot could not have benefitted any species, and, in fact, would have been a detriment.  At the end of the book the writer concluded that if there is a god, he experiments and makes mistakes.

Yet I don’t think intelligent design can be argued by studying the phases of evolution.  Evolutionary scientists have amassed an enormous catalogue of minutae, and they would dispute any theory based on evolutionary evidence that argued against randomness.  For them any concept except for selection among random evolutionary changes is a slippery slope. 

Among the most vocal scientists suggesting that there might be a pattern to the development of the universe are physicists.  I have read several books by Paul Davies, including ”The Mind of God,” that suggest there might be a pattern behind the universe.  Davies is a respected physicist who uses pure science to promote his conjecture.   Years ago (and again I apologize for not remembering the author’s name) I read a book on the gaia theory by a female scientist.  Like Davies, she talked about the formation of the universe.  She believed that the universe and the earth were living things made by a creator, but like Davies she used the mysteries in science as her rationale.  Both writers had excellent arguments, but never got into evolution per se.

Ben Stein recently made a film called “No Intelligence Allowed,” in which he takes the position that life was not created randomly.  The first half of the film does an excellent job of showing the complexities of life on earth and the astronomical chances that this life would be created randomly.  The second half, however, is really dumb.  He tries to propound the idea that there is a conspiracy theory among the evolutionary scientists against intelligent design.  He even suggests that evolutionary scientists are somehow connected to the Nazis, who used evolution to promote their racial theories.  As well argued as the first half of the film was, the second half was very poorly argued, and in my mind just plain dumb.

Evolutionary science began in the 19th century.  The acamdemies were just getting rid of the notions of the Biblical God as the creator of things, and these notions stood in the way of pure science.  This old argument has persisted through the 20th century and even persists today.  The idea of Creationists that the earth was created 6,000 years ago by God is preposterous.  Think about how many sciences would have to be thrown into the trash heap by going with this theory.  Evolutionary science of course, and all of its myriad of findings.  Archeology, anthropology and even physics!  What are we to do with atomic theory and the theory of half-life?  That’s how we date organic findings, and many of these are way, way older than 6,000 years.  Creationism is such a silly idea, I don’t even want to include it in my discussion.

The academies are not in a conspiracy against intelligent design.  They are afraid of giving the Creationists any credence, and they find no place for god in science.   Evolutionary scientists have been fitting their findings very nicely into their theory that changes to species happen randomly and natural selection weeds out what works from what doesn’t.   If there are anomolies, they put those aside to be explained later.  Mostly they think everything fits, and since all the data is not in (and probably will never be since so much of it has been destroyed) they expect some gaps to exist.

The best argument against all evolutionary change happening randomly cannot be made by gaps in the data.  And it won’t be made by gaps in the data, since evolutionary scientists have studied the data to a degree that the rest of us will never take the time to do.  The best argument to made against pure randomness is a mathematical, statistical argument, and right now there is no place for these statistical arguments in evolutionary science.  Yet for a variety of reasons I think there might be in the future, and this is what I propose to talk about in a later blog.

The Odds

I don’t think any intelligent, informed person would argue with the fact that the odds against life randomly occuring anywhere in the universe are astronomical.  Those who are staunchly opposed to the concept of design in the universe would argue that the odds against life occuring might be high, but the universe is an awfully big place and that mitigates those odds.  Some might even speculate that there may exist multiple universes, perhaps even infinite universes, which would make the random chance of life occurring someplace inevitable.   Whether you believe that life occurred randomly or by design, you believe in an unprovable theory.   Those who believe that life occurred and developed by random chance have chosen a theory to believe in.  Evolutionary scientists can no more prove that evolution occurred randomly than someone can prove the opposite.  Both are simply theories.  

Yet evolutionary scientists would say that it is pointless to base their scientific work on the theory that something unprovable exists.  Scientists require proof of the existence of something–in other words, the burden of proof lies with those who believe that there is some sort of design behind the universe.  And right now that cannot be proved.  In the absence of the proof of a design, these scientists are only left with randomness.  They have no other plausible explanation for evolution.  Changes in species occur randomly and those that work outlast those that don’t.  Any other explanation lacks proof.

Of course there is no proof that multiple universes exist.   So scientists really can’t use that theory to mitigate the odds against life occurring randomly.  They can, however, say that the universe is a damn big place and there’s been a lot of time for randomness to chance upon life.  But is that really true?  The prevailing theory is that the universe is about 15 billion years old, give or take.  And life first occured on earth about 3 1/2 billion years ago.  So, on the face of it, it would seem that there was about 11 1/2 billion years for life to develop. 

But a lot of things had to happen in the universe before life could exist.  First of all, the universe had to expand and cool down and all that cool Big Bang stuff that nobody really understands.  Maybe a few billion years taking shape?  Then began the making of complex atoms.  In the beginning, all the stuff of the universe was too simple to form life as we know it.  Stars had to be born, compress matter into more complex atoms, die, spit out the more complex matter, form from the more complex matter, go nova and die again, reform into even more complex matter, etc.  I don’t know if anyone has ever calculated how long it took for the star factory to turn out the complex atoms that make up life, but it’s got to be in the many billions of years.

Clearly I’m just a lay kind of guy, but every time I read about the development of the universe, it seems that it evolved toward life just about as fast as it could if it had been planned.  I’m not sure that anyone could even dispute that point, since pysicists are still arguing about the early development of the universe.  But just for argument’s sake, let’s say that life could have begun to occur a billion or so years earlier than it is theorized that it did on earth.  Maybe even five billion years ago.  Certainly some scientist might argue that I am wrong, as if anyone really knows what the universe looked like five billion years ago, but I don’t think any scientist would argue with the fact that at some point in the past the universe did not have all the elements required to manufacture life as we know it.

So we’re not really looking at an infinite amount of time for life to develop in the universe.  And that means from a time standpoint, at any rate, the odds against life randomly occuring are not as mitigated by time and space as it would appear at first blush.  In other words, we’ve got a limited time window in which life can occur.   If you accept the prevailing theory that life on earth emerged from a volatile chemical soup, that window gets even smaller.  If the earth was volatile, the correct chemical conditions must have been a passing phenomenom.  I wonder how long scientists theorize it could have lasted.  A few hundred million years at most? 

So what has to occur in that few hundred million years for life to evolve?  Think of all the building blocks that have to be in exactly the correct order randomly being assembled by chaotic forces.   Think of how many accidents have to occur simply for one strand of DNA to accidentally occur.  It would then quickly be destoryed by the volatile soup.  How many trillions upon trillions of accidents would have to occur for the first organism to accidentally form?  It then would be destroyed, because it would not have any way of duplicating.  Think of it, not only does a one cell organism have to accidentally form, but it then has to be capable of going through the complex process of mitosis.  Or it vanishes and the whole process, repeating the same ridiculous odds, has to start all over again.  Random is random.  The volatile soup has no memory of what it has done before to try to correct its previous mis-tries.  Each time all the trillions upon trillions of accidents have occured and not quite created life, the same series of accidents have to reoccur.  And when the first cell is finally developed, after how many millions upon millions of years of randomly occuring accidents, it will in all probability die off.  Simply because a one-celled organism that can go through mitosis comes into existence, does not mean that it will live long enough to actually create a continuing species.  Then all those same random accidents will have to occur all over again.  Random is random.  It has no memory.

I don’t think any informed person would argue against the fact that the odds against life randomly occuring on earth are are staggering.  So, either it is a gigantic accident or somehow the odds are mitigated.  I don’t think the argument that there was plenty of time holds up.  The universe is between 14 and 15 billion years old, but it did not have the proper ingredients to support life until after complex atoms were formed by the stars.  So the time factor is somewhat limited.  There is the vast space argument.  Each decade scientists conceive of the universe to be a far larger place than they had previously thought it was.  Still I am not convinced that that mitigates the odds of life randomly occuring on earth.  The odds of being dealt a straight flush are the same whether they are dealt in the only card game on the earth or everybody on earth is playing poker at the same time.  The odds pertain to a particular deck of cards.  In other words, the earth was dealt its chemical soup and the odds against that soup randomly forming life remain nearly unthinkable.

I think that most evolutionary scientists would agree that the odds against life randomly forming on earth are enormous, yet life does exist here, and for them there is no other reasonable explanation than that it randomly occured.  As far as I know, nobody has even tried to seriously calculate the odds.  Maybe we do not yet have the technology to attempt it.  But once it does become possible to model the primal events that led to life, and if the odds against it are even more staggering than anyone could have ever conceived of, doesn’t it make sense to at least consider another explanation?

Some scientists believe that life has to exist in other places in the universe; it would be too unbelievable that it would only happen on earth.  Yet if you think about it, if life does occur in other places, the argument against life occuring randomly seems even more ridiculous.  Exactly how many times could this impossible sequence of accidents occur?  Let’s say everybody on earth was playing poker at the same time and at every table somebody had a straight flush.  Wouldn’t it be reasonable to look for some other explanation than that they were randomly dealt straight flushes?

So what other explanation might make sense?  Here is a simple, fairly benign one: the universe is programmed to create life.  Then comes the big question: who programmed it?  Then we’ve got the whole god mess, and evolutionary scientists don’t even want to go there.  But wait a second.  Who says there has to be a programmer?  I think that’s a pre-21st Century notion.  Scientists are coming up with the weirdest explanations of things that would have been unthinkable before the theory of relativity and quantum physics.  Why not simply say, the universe might have a program, but we do not necessarily have to assume that there is a programmer?

So, let’s say I’ve made my point, and I even get some evolutionary scientists to agree with me: the odds of life randomly occuring on earth are staggering and that fact might even lead them to conclude that the universe is programmed to create life.  So what?  What are they supposed to do with that information?  Let the Creationists have their way with the education system?  God no!  Keep Creationists in home schooling (and even that makes me cringe).  There are all sorts of cool theories floating around, but they don’t do scientists any good unless they are provable and they change a specific scientific approach.  Saying that life might be programmed into the universe (with or without the tradtional gods) is not provable, nor does it change the way evolutionary scientists would approach their studies.

Species come and species go.  If there is a program why is it so full of dead ends and seeming evolutionary mistakes?  What possible relevance could it have to the acquiring and cataloguing of evolutionary data?  And herein lies a big problem with modern science.  Each discipline has gotten so large it has developed disciplines within disciplines within disciplines.  Very few scientists have the time or the funding to concentrate on the big picture.  Scientists involved in evolution are deep within some minute area of the discipline.  They don’t have the time nor the inclination to pursue metaphysical theories that somebody might have concocted on some hallucinogen… “Cool, man, cool!”

Yet dillettantes like myself, who dabble in varioius sciences, do have the time and inclination to think about the big picture.  We don’t have the tools to publish or prove anything, but we might come up with an interesting idea from time to time.  My idea goes something like this: the odds against life randomly occuring on earth are large enough (staggering in fact) that it is worth exploring explanations other than mere randomness.  How would such an exploration begin, outside of philsophy and metaphysical speculation?  I think it should (and I predict will, although I might be dead when this occurs) happen through the application of mathematics–Chaos and Complexity theory, to be exact.

As we study genes more deeply, mathematical patterns will show up.  (Perhaps they have already and I don’t know anything about them.)  Just as strange and surprising patterns have become known through the study of Chaos theory, I think equally strange and surprising patterns will show up when a similar approach is brought to genetics. 

Scientists have been pursuing the Holy Grail of the Unified Theory since Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity.  Their unified theory only applies to physics, however.  What if it were to apply to the entire universe, including the emergence of life?  I read a book a number of years ago on Complexity theory (which is basically applied Chaos theory).  A number of scientists had given themselves the challenge of trying to make birds flock across a computer screen.  For a number of years they were all trying to deal at the pixel level–how to control the millions of pixels from nano-second to nano-second.  Finally one of the scientists came up with a brilliant idea: why not simply develop a few simple rules and allow the birds to flock on their own?  For example, a stray bird must go in the direction of the greatest mass of birds.  With very few rules, he was able to do what others had not been able to do with long algorithms.  Perhaps the universe has some simple rules that would not only account for a number of the mysteries scientists have not yet been able to solve, but also for the occurence of life.

Now, as for the unavoidable metaphysical question, if there are rules or patterns, who or what developed them?  To me this is pre-21st Century thinking.  We could not think of a creation without a Creator or a Prime Mover.  Our brains causal wiring would not allow us to conceive of a result without a cause.  But haven’t our brains been re-wired now thta we know time and space are not fixed concepts?  If a particle can be in two places at once, why can’t the universe have a pattern without a patterner?   I don’t think we necessarily have to go to the cause, the Prime Mover and Shaker, anymore.  And without having to go there, scientists who are wary of the meddling of traditional metaphysical thinking, might be freed to pursue paths that were previously tabboo (lest the Galileo vampires came after them) within the world of science.

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