At the end of each year, I review the accomplishments of the intelligent design movement and then anticipate what will transpire over the next season. Every year, the strength of the arguments for design increases, and the challenges to the secular creation narratives of life’s origin and development grow in number and severity. The attempts to prevent the public from gaining access to the truth appear more desperate and misguided.
The situation resembles a poorly constructed dam holding back water that is continuously rising. Streams of water are breaking through at increasing numbers of locations, and the flow at each location is hastening. The key question is not if, but when the dam will collapse.
Here, I will discuss just three of the highlights from 2021 for the Center for Science & Culture. I will also describe how these successes are hastening the erosion of the materialistic philosophical assumptions hindering scientific progress. And I will assess their implications for the future of the intelligent design movement.
Return of the God Hypothesis
The first highlight was the publication of Stephen Meyer’s new book. For the past three years, I along with several other academics have assisted Meyer in researching the evidence for design in the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the laws of nature, and biological information. The countless hours of study and analysis culminated in the release of Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe.
For the first time, Meyer fully integrates the evidence for design in cosmology with that from biology. He illustrates that the common thread that runs through all scientific domains is information. And he explains why the information embedded throughout nature unambiguously points to the actions of a supreme mind. Meyer demonstrates that the design hypothesis is not only essential to our understanding of the universe and life, but design resides at the very foundation of science itself.
The strength of Meyer’s arguments is highlighted by the glowing endorsements the book received from top-level physicists, chemists, biologists, historians, and theologians, including a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. It is further reflected by critics’ responses that primarily include misrepresentations of the book’s content or misunderstanding of the science. Or they center on arguments that Meyer already fully addressed (here, here,here).
I have heard feedback from multiple sources about how the book has encouraged many religious readers’ faith and how it challenged atheists and agnostics to rethink their philosophical commitments.
Publication of Waiting-Times Paper
A second highlight was Ola Hössjer, Günter Bechly, and Ann Gauger’s publishing an article, central to the design debate, in the Journal of Theoretic Biology. Their paper presents the most mathematically rigorous model to date on the waiting times for coordinated mutations. The waiting-time problem is the excessive time required for mutations essential for some innovation to appear and spread throughout a population. Their paper expands upon earlier work that already demonstrated the dire challenge of this constraint to evolutionary scenarios.
Of particular importance, Durrett and Schmidt published a paper in 2008 that estimates the average waiting time for two coordinated mutations to appear in populations of various sizes. Their model was based upon unrealistic assumptions that greatly favor evolution. The goal of their analysis was to demonstrate the plausibility of macroevolutionary narratives (e.g., fish transforming into an amphibian).
Despite the authors’ clear bias, they acknowledge that the average time required for two coordinated mutations to appear in human’s purported ancestors is over 100 million years. Applying their equations to whale evolution yields an estimate of around 40 million years. In both cases, the maximum possible time for evolution to have crafted such novel creatures based on the fossil record is far shorter than what is required for even the tiniest fraction of the new genetic information to arise.
The Hössjer, Bechly, and Gauger paper proves that waiting times are even longer than Durrett and Schmidt’s estimate. Of key importance, time increases exponentially with the number of coordinated mutations. Consequently, the waiting time grows prohibitively long for evolutionary scenarios of even the most modest transitions or innovations.
The disparity between the time available for major transformations and the time required to generate the new genetic information is comparable to the disparity between a world-record pole vault and the distance to Alpha Centauri. Accepting the standard evolutionary model in its entirety comes close to forcing one to abandon belief in mathematics.
Conference on Engineering in Living System
A third highlight has been the impact of the Conference on Engineering in Living Systems (CELS). Biologists, engineers, and other academics convened to examine how employing engineering principles to the study of biology yields deeper insight into the organization and operations of living systems. Presenters addressed the revolution occurring in systems biology, which resulted from systems engineers partnering with biologists in their research. The engineers’ experience and insights have forced evolutionary assumptions to be supplanted by design-based assumptions, language, and methods (here, here, here).
Systems biologists increasingly recognize that they must incorporate the core intelligent design concepts into their analyses, albeit using different language, to advance their understanding of biological systems. Michael Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity is implicit in the tenet of holism. William Dembski’s formulation of specified complexity encompasses biologists’ understanding of functional modules. And more generally, the heuristic of intelligent design is simply a more general rubric for the application of engineering principles to the study of life.
Speakers described how engineering-based models better explain adaptation than natural selection (here,here, here, here). And they detailed how the predictions of these models are being confirmed by a torrent of recent research on adaptation in diverse species, including model organisms (here, here, here). In addition, presentations demonstrated the explanatory power of applying the design models to such topics as ecological interactions and molecular machines.
The ripple effects of the conference will continue for years to come. Participants with training in different engineering domains have partnered with biologists to apply their expertise to specific biological systems to further reveal their underlying design logic. We expect the projects to generate publications in leading journals over the next few years that should significantly advance biologists’ understanding of life. We will not immediately advertise the progress of the research teams to protect the careers of the investigators, but over the long term their work will showcase the necessity of design-based approaches.
Looking to the Future
These and other successes over the past year forecast the shift occurring in the relationship between the intelligent design and mainstream scientific communities. In the past, the interactions often centered on conflict since each community approached research from the perspective of irreconcilable philosophical assumptions. But now, the tacit assumptions directing investigations by systems biologists are aligning with those of the intelligent design movement.
As a result, design proponents can further assist investigators to avoid the misdirection that regularly results from evolutionary assumptions (e.g., misidentification of junk DNA). We can also partner with mainstream researchers in applying engineering principles to the study of biology. This partnership will only accelerate progress in uncovering the mysteries of life.