This past month I had the honor of teaching at Hong Kong Baptist University in a summer program sponsored by the Centre for Sino-Christian Studies. I was joined by Discovery Fellows Paul Nelson and Paul Chien. Guest lectures were also presented over the Internet by Stephen Meyer, Douglas Axe, and Günter Bechly. The participants included students and academics from Hong Kong and from mainland China.
The discussions covered a range of topics related to intelligent design in nature. I spoke about the evidence for fine tuning in the laws of physics and about the need for preexistent information to explain the origin of life. Paul Nelson explained how the materialist philosophical assumptions commonly adopted in scientific disciplines hinder progress and distort perceptions of reality. He also addressed the origin of life (using what he called “The Humpty-Dumpty Principle”), evo-devo and the origin of animal body plans, and the illicit role of theology in evolutionary reasoning. Theology in that scientific context is illicit, Paul argued, not because there is anything wrong with theology, but because the rule of methodological naturalism, which nearly all evolutionary biologists profess, pointedly excludes theological premises.
Systems Biology and Engineering Principles
I later described, conversely, how the field of systems biology has explicitly applied engineering principles, patterns, and tools to the study of life to great effect. The evidence from nature has forced investigators to embrace, in practice, a design framework for understanding the higher-level organization of living systems.
Günter Bechly presented on the numerous examples in the fossil record of the sudden appearance of new types of organisms. He also detailed how all attempts to explain away the sudden explosion of new animal body plans (design architectures) in the Cambrian explosion have been discredited. For instance, the fossil record is now known to be sufficiently complete to discard any hope that future fossil finds will fill in most of the gaps. In addition, rigorous numerical analyses have been conducted on the time required for multiple specific mutations to appear in a species and then spread throughout the population, and they have demonstrated that the required time for any undirected process to drive the major transformations in life vastly exceeds the maximum time available.
On the Rarity of Proteins
Doug Axe described his research on the rarity of proteins, and I detailed more recent research that has confirmed his results and their applicability to proteins in general. Doug outlined the arguments from his book Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed which empowers lay readers to see past the misinformation often presented to them by academics whose perspectives have been distorted by scientific materialism. He concluded by demonstrating his Stylus modeling tool for protein evolution which models proteins as traditional Chinese characters. The students were excited to see the complexity of protein folds depicted by their native language.
The students expressed their deep gratitude for learning about the evidence for design which is often avoided in many academic circles. I found the discussions particularly enjoyable since most of the participants had little exposure to the design debate, so their views were not tainted by any cultural baggage, which is rarely the case in Western nations. As a consequence, they had the intellectual capacity to apprehend the full weight of the arguments.
My favorite moment was hearing the response from a student from Europe who said that while the evidence for design in nature is very persuasive, he found that his mind resisted accepting it since he did not like the implications of a higher power having authority over his life. His self-awareness and intellectual honesty were truly refreshing. Other students said that the evidence is forcing them to entirely rethink their understanding of reality. Ironically, they may have more intellectual freedom in China to pursue the truth than they would have in many universities in the United States.
Photo: Students and teachers in the summer program on intelligent design at Hong Kong Baptist University.