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Peer-Reviewed Articles in International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics Argue for a Designed Universe

Casey Luskin

The journal International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics aims to be “a channel of communication for researchers from around the world working on a variety of studies involving nature and its significance to modern scientific thought and design.” Published by Wessex Institute of Technology Press, the journal focuses on ecological biomimetics: “Ecodynamics in particular aims to relate ecosystems to evolutionary thermodynamics in order to arrive at satisfactory solutions for sustainable development.”

The journal’s editors and editorial board include scientists and engineers from over 15 nations at over 40 institutions including MIT, Duke University, Tokyo University, University of Exeter, University of Bologna, University of Koln, and Georgia Tech. Though the journal has published a couple of papers in recent years that are sympathetic to ID, I know of no direct evidence that this journal itself is friendly to ID. But it seems that some credible people affiliated with this journal felt that ID may have merit, and so they’ve published a few papers sympathetic to ID arguments.

One of those papers, titled “The Coherence of an Engineered World,” was lead-authored by engineering professor Dominic Halsmer. We previously covered this paper here, here, and here. It states that when we look at the universe, “the level of engineering appears to be far above and beyond, or transcendent of, current human capabilities.” The paper cites the fine-tuning of the universe for life, evidence of which includes the special properties of water, the prevalence of elements needed for life (e.g. hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon), the expansion rate of the universe, as well as the Galactic Habitable Zone and Privileged Planet arguments developed by Discovery Institute senior fellow Guillermo Gonzalez.

Two ID-friendly papers have also been published in this journal by Andy McIntosh, Professor of Thermodynamics and Combustion Theory at the University of Leeds. His first paper, “Information and Entropy – Top-Down or Bottom-Up Development in Living Systems,” was came out in 2009, and we reviewed it here. This paper endorses intelligent design after exploring a key question in ID thinking:

The ultimate question in origins must be: Can information increase in a purely materialistic or naturalistic way? It is not satisfactory to simply assume that information has to have arisen in this way. The alternative of original design must be allowed and all options examined carefully.

McIntosh’s argument is twofold. First, he defines “machine” as a device that locally raises the level of free energy, and argues that the cell is full of machines that are irreducibly complex:

All of these functioning parts are needed to make the basic forms of living cells to work. … This, it may be argued, is a repeat of the irreducible complexity argument of Behe, and many think that that debate has been settled by the work of Pallen and Matzke where an attempt to explain the origin of the bacterial flagellum rotary motor as a development of the Type 3 secretory system has been made. However, this argument is not robust simply because it is evident that there are features of both mechanisms which are clearly not within the genetic framework of the other. That is, the evidence, far from pointing to one being the ancestor of the other, actually points to them both being irreducibly complex. In the view of the author this argument is still a very powerful one.

Second, he argues that such machines in order to operate require information in the form of computer-like code. In McIntosh’s view, the only way to make sense of molecular machines is to understand that the information that drives them is non-material and constrains the thermodynamics so that the local matter and energy are in a non-equilibrium state. McIntosh proposes that this information must arise in a “top-down” fashion, thus requiring the input of intelligence:

[T]here is a perfectly consistent view which is a top-down approach where biological information already present in the phenotypic creature (and not emergent as claimed in the traditional bottom-up approach) constrains the system of matter and energy constituting the living entity to follow intricate non-equilibrium chemical pathways. These pathways whilst obeying all the laws of thermodynamics are constantly supporting the coded software which is present within … Without the addition of outside intelligence, raw matter and energy will not produce auto-organization and machinery. This latter assertion is actually repeatedly borne out by experimental observation — new machinery requires intelligence. And intelligence in biological systems is from the non-material instructions of DNA.

He concludes his paper with an express endorsement of intelligent design: “the implication of this paper is that it supports the so-called intelligent design thesis — that an intelligent designer is needed to put the information into the biological system.”

Another paper by McIntosh appeared in this journal, titled “Evidence of design in bird feathers and avian respiration,” which we previously reviewd here. In this paper, McIntosh argues that two systems vital to bird flight — feathers and the avian respiratory system — exhibit “irreducible complexity”:

[F]unctional systems, in order to operate as working machines, must have all the required parts in place in order to be effective. If one part is missing, then the whole system is useless. The inference of design is the most natural step when presented with evidence such as in this paper, that is evidence concerning avian feathers and respiration.

Regarding the structure of feathers, he argues that they require many features to be present in order to properly function and allow flight, including barbs, barbules, hooks, and catches.

Regarding the avian respiratory system, McIntosh contends that a functional transition from a purported reptilian respiratory system to the avian design would lead to non-functional intermediate stages. He argues that “even if one does take the fossil evidence as the record of development, the evidence is in fact much more consistent with an ab initio design position — that the breathing mechanism of birds is in fact the product of intelligent design.”

Not only is International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics not a pro-ID journal, but in fact these papers by Dr. McIntosh carried a disclaimer that stated:

This paper presents a different paradigm than the traditional view. It is, in the view of the Journal, an exploratory paper that does not give a complete justification for the alternative view. The reader should not assume that the Journal or the reviewers agree with the conclusions of the paper. It is a valuable contribution that challenges the conventional vision that systems can design and organise themselves. The Journal hopes that the paper will promote the exchange of ideas in this important topic. Comments are invited in the form of “Letters to the Editor.”

McIntosh’s paper “Information and Entropy – Top-Down or Bottom-Up Development in Living Systems” recently drew a letter-to-the-editor — a supportive one — by Royal Truman, an organic chemist who works for BASF in Germany. Truman notes that McIntosh examined molecular machines — DNA polymerase, the ribosome, and enzymes — but he argues that there are many other molecular machines and specified components required for life’s most basic function of information processing:

  • “several molecular machines, which must work together in tandem to synthesize optically pure AAs [amino acids]”
  • “requires a machine (the ribosome), which forces only the correct chemistry to occur [during translation] and prevents the wrong side-reactions”
  • “The AAs must react in the correct order”

Truman further notes that “McIntosh has done us a major service by reminding us that energy processing in useful manners requires specialized machines.” But there’s a problem, as Truman observes, namely “[t]he difficulty of increasing complexity or information via mutations in living systems.” He asks:

Is it not more realistic that random mutations would have the net, average effect of destroying coding instructions for complex processes? McIntosh documents how most mutations are deleterious but located in the near neutral zone.

(Royal Truman, “Letter In response to: McIntosh, A.C., Information and entropy – top-down or bottom-up development in living system?,” International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, 4(4), pp. 351-385, 2009.)

Citing Doug Axe, Truman answers this question:

Proteins usually seem to be designed for more robustness than necessary. For example, Axe points out that to maintain the correct folded structure, more features, such as salt bridges and other interactions, are present than needed. Destroying one stabilizing bond often has no, or negligible, effect on the stability or function of the protein. He calls this a ‘buffering’ effect. Studies show that although various mutations are harmless individually, jointly they wreck the protein. Some authors suggest a multiplicative effect. For example, if an organism has a 90% chance of surviving a single AA change, then for three such events at the same time the chance drops to 0.9 x 0.9 x 0.9 = 0.73. Axe’s data show that this is only true for a few mutations in total, or combinations of mutations, and then loss of function is complete.

After reviewing these arguments and others, Truman concludes, “It is unlikely that random mutations, plus selection, provide the building material for complex new functions.”

For more detail on ID-friendly papers published in International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, see our peer-reviewed articles page.

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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