My Discovery Institute colleagues and I have observed that the recent Nobel Prize in chemistry, awarded to Drs. Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith, and Gregory P. Winter for the ingenious engineering of biomolecules, rewards research that is crucially dependent on the inference to design in biochemistry and to intelligent design as a method of science. The Nobel laureates (implicitly or explicitly) inferred design in cellular structure and function and used random genetic variation of molecules to design highly effective biomolecules. It’s beautiful bioengineering — using random variation in biomolecules to design better molecules. It’s beautiful work in intelligent design science.
Coyne Is Aghast
Predictably, Darwinists are aghast. At Why Evolution Is True, Professor Jerry Coyne is exasperated: “I have no words,” he says. He then goes to write:
I presume that Egnor thinks that Frances Arnold [one of the Nobel laurates] is God. Either that, or he fails to understand that humans mimicking evolution in the lab isn’t the same thing as a designer being humanlike and creating plants and animals.
And the first ID prize?
“Linus Pauling’s groundbreaking work on protein structure in the early 20th century (for which he won the Nobel Prize) depended critically on his correct inference that the structure of a protein must account for the purpose the protein serves in cellular metabolism.”
That all turns on the ambiguous meaning of “purpose”, and this is a prime and a rare correct example of “begging the question”. For Egnor, “purpose” presupposes a God rather than being shorthand for “what the protein does as well as the nature of the reproductive advantage conferred by evolutionary changes in that protein.”
Coyne misunderstands design science. Intelligent design is two scientific inferences: 1) design is the most reasonable explanation for some aspects of biology, and 2) inference to design in biology is a powerful tool in scientific methodology. These Nobel laurates used the second inference — that inference to design is a powerful tool in biological science — to guide their research.
Design in Biomolecules
They looked for purposes (design) in biomolecules, and used random genetic variation to engineer better biological processes. They did, in a very real sense, what design pioneer Michael Behe discovered in his principle of irreducible complexity: there are some biological functions that are complex in such a way that they cannot evolve simply by random variation and unintelligent natural selection. Intelligence must be added to the process to achieve high levels of biological complexity and function. The Nobel researchers showed how intelligence, coupled to variation, is essential to the evolution of biological novelty. In this sense, these researchers mimicked nature, which is replete with intelligent design. Nature, no less than ingenious biological researchers in their lab, relies on variation, chance, and intelligence in evolution. This Nobel work is a beautiful vindication of irreducible complexity.
Coyne correctly points out that good scientific method in bioengineering of biomolecules depends critically on the inference to purpose in biology. The researchers first had to ascertain the purpose — the function — of the molecules, in order to productively evolve them using variation and design. Inference to purpose is pivotal in biological research — the most fundamental and crucial question a researcher can ask about a biological structure or process is: “What is its purpose?” Purpose, of course is always forward-looking. The purpose of DNA is to encode protein structure and facilitate replication. The purpose of ribosomes is to manufacture protein. The purpose of mitochondria is to produce energy in the form of ATP. The purpose of chloroplasts is to carry out photosynthesis.
Purpose is the attribute of a system that defines its goal — what it’s meant to do. And purpose inherently signifies design — purpose is a signature of design.
It is that signature that guided these Nobel Prize-winning researchers, and always guides the best of biological science. No Nobel Prize has ever been awarded for Darwinian research, and there’s a reason for that. Darwinism denies purpose in biology, and denial of biological purpose is a catastrophic impediment to science. The Junk DNA scandal, for example, which is the catastrophic outcome of the Darwinist inference to purposelessness in biology, set genetic research back decades.
Certain levels of biological complexity are so intricate and exquisitely purposeful that they are beyond the feeble power of random chance and mindless selection. They require the application of intelligence to evolve.
Once again, it’s design science, not Darwinism, that wins Nobel Prizes. So bravo to Dr. Behe, whose principle of irreducible complexity was so beautifully validated by the superb work of Drs. Arnold, Smith, and Winter and implicitly recognized in this year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry.
Photo: Michael Behe, in a scene from Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines.