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Scientific Paper Reviews Dembski and Behe’s Methods of Detecting Intelligent Design

In a prior post I noted that a recent paper in International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, co-authored by Dissent from Darwinism list signer Dominic Halsmer, cited to the work of Guillermo Gonzalez as evidence for cosmic design. However, the paper also looks at design in the biological realm, citing the work of a variety of noteworthy proponents of intelligent design, including Walter Bradley, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, and William Dembski.

The paper examines to the engineering of life, noting that “[b]iological systems are constantly undergoing processes that exhibit modularity, specificity, adaptability, durability, and many other aspects of engineered systems.” It quotes from William Dembski and Jonathan Wells’ book The Design of Life, stating: “Many of the systems inside the cell represent nanotechnology at a scale and sophistication that dwarfs human engineering. Moreover, our ability to understand the structure and function of these systems depends directly on our facility with engineering principles.”

The authors further cite to Michael Behe’s book The Edge of Evolution explaining that engineered systems in biology appear to require a goal-directed process like intelligent design:

All things that are engineered start out as a concept that is designed with the end in mind. What purpose will this serve? What will be needed to realize the functional structure? These are some of the common questions asked when in the first stages of engineering. After these questions have been answered, the next step is to acquire the materials needed and to start building, which in itself is a complex process, because if one thing is out of place, or not attainable, the whole system is compromised. In his book, The Edge of Evolution, Michael Behe refers to this overall process as being a “bottom up-top down” design. He writes, “by bottom up I mean that of course the foundation of the building had to be poured first, the ground floor next, and so on, all the way to the zenith at the sixth floor,” and “by top down I mean that the building was planned.” The construction of a cilium appears to follow the same process. When a cell starts putting out a new cilium, it gathers the materials that it needs to start the process and stores them at its base until they are utilized.

(D. Halsmer, J. Asper, N. Roman, T. Todd, “The Coherence of an Engineered World,” International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, Vol. 4(1):47-65 (2009) (internal citations removed).)

Finally, the paper reviews various methods of detecting design developed by leading proponents of intelligent design:

In the last couple of decades, several researchers have attempted to better quantify our ability to detect the presence of an engineering influence. This often takes the form of attempting to characterize various types of complexity. Michael Denton, in his book Nature’s Destiny, uses the term “integrative complexity” in referring to subsystems that are integrated together to form a complex and functional unit that supports life. In Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe introduces the idea of “irreducible complexity,” in which a functional system is made up of multiple interacting parts that are all necessary for functionality and hence not easily obtained through natural selection. William Dembski, using the mathematical theories of probability and information, has defined a more precise tool known as “specified complexity.” An object, event, or structure exhibits specified complexity if it is both complex (i.e., not easily reproducible by chance) and specified (i.e., displays an independently given pattern).

Again, Halsmer and his co-authors consider the fact that there are signs of engineering in nature, from the tiniest biological systems to the macroscale of the cosmos. They further review the work of Walter Bradley, noting that Bradley gives factors which must be considered when engineering a system and that the universe shows signs of following these principles.

Walter Bradley, a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Baylor University, has produced several publications that provide insight into the idea of an engineered world. He delineates the three essential factors that are necessary to achieve design outcomes in engineering as follows:

1. The mathematical form that nature assumes
2. Values of the universal and local constants
3. Specification of boundary conditions

Human engineering consists of specifying the boundary conditions under which the laws of nature operate in order to produce a purposeful outcome. Cosmic engineering must involve specification of not only the conditions under which the laws of nature operate but also the very laws themselves and the universal constants that scale the “building blocks” of matter and energy and the fundamental forces in nature to provide the purposeful outcome of a habitable universe for life and life itself. Dr Bradley contends that for someone to choose to believe that there is a naturalistic explanation for the precise engineering of all these factors is to “believe in a miracle by another name.”

In his book Conslience, Harvard ecologist E.O. Wilson writes, “All of biology” points to an “impersonal force” since “the idea of a biological God, one who directs organic evolution and intervenes in human affairs (as envisioned by theism), is increasingly contravened by biology.” (pp. 140-141., 290) Interestingly, what Halsmer and his coauthors conclude that there is in reality a consilience of knowledge pointing in precisely the opposite direction:

An interdisciplinary study of the cosmos suggests that a transcendently engineered world may be the most coherent explanation for the reality we experience as human beings. E.O. Wilson recently revived the term “consilience” in reference to the unity of knowledge; “literally a ‘jumping together’ of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation.” This phenomenon is currently being realized across the physical, life, and social sciences within the context of an engineering mindset. The universe displays a beautiful functionality that seems to automatically deploy for the benefit of life and mankind in particular. Even so, humans are largely able to comprehend the workings of the cosmos and recognize widespread technological attributes that dovetail into a consilience that is best explained by the wisdom of a transcendent engineer.

(D. Halsmer, J. Asper, N. Roman, T. Todd, “The Coherence of an Engineered World,” International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, Vol. 4(1):47-65 (2009) (internal citations removed).)

It would seem that while E.O. Wilson thinks there is a “consilience” of data pointing away from design, Halsmer’s paper shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Halsmer’s paper, “The Coherence of an Engineered World,” shows that from the largest macroscopic architecture of the universe to the smallest biological structures, nature exhibits evidence of intelligent design, and this design-based paradigm is the best way to study and understand the natural world.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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