A design argument against the non-intelligent origin of life, consisting of meaningful information and complex, functional mechanisms, is that all scenarios of unguided origins fail because at each step towards the specific outcome, the number of ways to go wrong far outnumbers the way(s) to go right. To produce life from non-life, purposeful guidance must have been required.
To better understand the essence of this design argument, let’s apply its logic in a completely different setting, highlighting how design infiltrates our daily lives. This reality is commonly overlooked.
A Sense of Thankfulness
When we lived in Southern California, my family decided to take a short vacation to San Diego. The drive took less than two hours, while traversing a network of freeways and coastal roads, guided continually by GPS on our cell phones. The hotel, having been reserved online, was expecting us; food was available in an abundance of restaurant choices, tourist-friendly sites allowed us to safely and enjoyably pass the time, and after a few days, we navigated in our car safely back to our home.
After this trip, the thought struck me, accompanied by a sense of thankfulness, that a million things that could’ve gone wrong on the trip didn’t happen. Our car, amid thousands of others, suffered no mechanical breakdowns that could have left us stranded or involved in an accident. The global positioning system of satellites and computer software interfaced with our cell phones to direct us over many miles and numerous turns and unfamiliar roads to our destination. The food supply chain functioned adequately to make available a wide variety of meals. Same story with regard to available gasoline. The online booking service meshed well with the hotel management, resulting in a clean, air-conditioned room, ready for our arrival. Credit card readers and banking services functioned as expected to facilitate smooth payments at multiple locations. The list could go on and on, highlighting how many things (usually) go right in our daily lives, when chaos would be the probable outcome apart from multiple layers of intelligent design.
It’s interesting to note the dependence on multiple layers of interconnected designed systems in human societies, compared with the relative lack of such dependence among any other species. A minimal amount of herd behavior exists with some species — for protection, hunting, and caring for the young. Some insects, such as ants and honeybees, exhibit instinctual behavior that speaks of design input from beyond their own experience or “intellect.” But human civilization stands apart from all other life on Earth in its radical dependence on intelligently designed levels of organized societal structures.
The designed systems that enable human society to function at its best come not from instinct but from choice. Human civilization functions well when enough people have the freedom to choose to carry out tasks that provide a service (sometimes indirectly) to others. From a naturalistic perspective, freedom of choice, meaningful choices, is unexplainable. The ability that humans have to freely make real choices points to the reality of the Judeo-Christian worldview, in which mind is more than matter. The intelligently designed systems that enhance our lives emphasize that we are more than atoms chemically bound together in inexplicably complex and functional forms.
When Civilization Fails
Sometimes, civilization’s design breaks down, and we then see how complex, interdependent, and fragile the system really is. There are always more ways to go wrong than right whenever raw nature overcomes the ability of a system to adapt. Natural disasters have wreaked havoc for millions of people in various parts of the world, but even then, the availability of aid from the broader community facilitates survival and enables a more rapid return to normal life. But if people make choices to harm others, rather than to help, such choices can frustrate the societal systems designed to benefit our lives.
In general, intelligent design is evidenced by complex, functional systems that unguided natural processes could not succeed at forming, since there are always more ways to go wrong than right. Our everyday lives depend upon exactly these types of interconnected, designed systems to keep our society functioning.
How Much More So
When the system of civilization works well, we can become so accustomed to it that it’s easy to take for granted the multiple “right choices” that are required to enjoy the smoothly functioning design of daily life. Even though we do experience traffic jams or an occasional flat tire, we can be grateful for how well things usually work the next time we take a vacation or just drive to the store to buy a few groceries for dinner.
If our wonder is called for in the mundane context of daily existence, how much more so in the context of the origin of life itself. In any multi-step process — which the origin of meaningful information or functionally complex outcomes always requires — the improbabilities of successful steps overwhelm the space-time resources of a materialistic universe. The result must be failure — unless intelligent, goal-directed input was also present at the very beginning.