Does belief in an Intelligent Designer make sense in an age of Science?
Many people today believe that life in the universe results from blind and random forces. They consider this a matter of scientific fact, and that belief in intelligent design is merely a matter of blind faith. However, this is mistaken. In this essay, I shall argue that overwhelming evidences in nature reveal intelligent design, which leads to an intelligent designer.
Life’s complexity and the design argument
Anglican theologian William Paley made an argument that, for over a century, was regarded as an irrefutable argument for the existence of God. He wrote:
In crossing a heath [uncultivated land], suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there.1
Paley’s point was that one does not have to be an engineer to see that the watch was intentionally designed. Again, one may not know who did it, but sure enough someone did it. Such design demonstrates the presence of a designer who may be called the divine “watch- maker” of creation.
Similarly, the simplest living cell is one of the most sophisticated structures on Earth. It has within it more information than the Encyclopedia of Britannica. The nucleus of the cell bears information for the DNA, and also stores several instructions needed to form the proteins in the functional organism. Information plays a very important role in the study of the origin of life.2 Like the watch to find this level of complexity by chance is unlikely, or for information to have evolved is unlikely. Therefore, it is more plausible to say that an intelligent source was responsible for the origin of life.
But David Hume objected to the argument of design, claiming that a living organism only has the appearance of a machine, and therefore, the complexity of living organisms was only apparent evidence for design, that turns out to be misleading. Hume hypothesized a universe made of a finite number of particles, all in random motion, for infinite time. He also declared that the random interaction of matter would eventually produce complex organisms well suited to their environment.3
However, Hume’s objections have no basis at all. Although no machine is an organism, all organisms are machines. Therefore, since no one would argue that a machine designed by a person could be assembled by purely random processes, it is ridiculous to suggest then that living organism can be assembled purely by random processes.4 Moreover, assembly alone is not enough. Just as the assembled watch, before it becomes functional, must first be wound up and the time be set, so also someone must set the assembled organism into operation.5
Complexity of Earth’s first independent life forms
Evolution has a difficult time accounting for how such remarkable degrees of complexity have been seen from the very beginning. According to the fossil and geochemical records available, the Earth’s first life form was no different qualitatively from the photosynthetic and chemoautotrophic microbes alive today. This implies that a remarkable degree of biochemical complexity appeared simultaneously with life’s first occurrence on Earth. The evidence also indicates that life was present on Earth 3.8 plus billion years ago, but almost certainly not prior to that. The reason for this is that, even if it had existed, it would have been obliterated by the late heavy bombardment, hence, leaving a very narrow window of time for life to originate. To complicate things further, there is growing evidence that the Earth’s early atmosphere was rich in oxygen, but low in nitrogen. This is just the opposite of what evolution requires for life to evolve over long periods of time.6 In fact, origin of life investigator J. William Schopf wrote, “Since they (and I, too) would prefer a simpler evolutionary story, one that told us these oldest fossil organisms were capable only of primitive ways of living and that advanced metabolic lifestyles evolved much later. But the evidence seems strong, and what one might ‘prefer’ shouldn’t matter.”7 Therefore, the scenario during the Earth’s early atmosphere in essence requires life to have originated very rapidly.
The Myth surrounding the Prebiotic Soup
On the basis of some experiments conducted, some in the scientific community have postulated the possibility of life having originated from some prebiotic soup8. However, researchers of the origin of life camp have also found out that there is not much evidence available for the soup’s existence. This lack of evidence is very significant because the hypothesis of a prebiotic soup comes from the assumption that life originated by a naturalistic approach.
According to the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis from which arose the prebiotic soup theory of origins, ultraviolet light from the sun bathed the earth. The combination of this ultraviolet light from the sun with other sources of energy such as lightning, thunder, shock waves, tidal forces, and volcanic heat would have been adequate to drive the reactions forward.9
But first, there is no geological evidence for any primordial soup on Earth early on. If there had been any, then the dilution processes would have rendered the complex organic molecules to a level far too low for life to evolve. Secondly, the evidence available demonstrates that the Earth’s early atmosphere contained oxygen. The reactions thought necessary for the synthesis of prebiotic soup will not occur in the presence of oxygen. Furthermore, the oldest rocks on Earth date from 3.8 to 3.98 billion years ago whereas the earliest life was present as far back as 3.81 billion years. This implies that life had only 100 to 170 million years to evolve, which is a mere instant in geological time. Thirdly, a biogenesis runs into problems with the second law of thermodynamics. The law shows that such a reaction is improbable and the possibility is one chance in 1040,000. Raw energy cannot bring order or information out of chaos. It needs a blueprint to direct it to something usable.10
Evolutionists have attempted many laboratory simulation experiments and explanations for how life could have arisen on earth naturally. The conclusions of these experiments may have persuaded them to believe that prebiotics were plentiful on early Earth.11
However, these experiments revealed a problem showing that the reactants at a certain stage of the experiment needed to be withdrawn, isolated from the environment, cooled and then added to a new environment. These steps are difficult to conceive without an individual intervening at the exact time. Therefore, it becomes a problem to think that a naturalistic mechanism can succeed in replicating the intervention of the scientist as it would have been done in a laboratory.12
All these evidences and findings by the researchers prove that the success of geochemical simulation experiments rests on the researchers’ involvement. This involvement should remind us that apart from the work of an intelligent agent, the initiation in the origin of life process cannot take place.
The case for an Intelligent Designer
There are two views of the origin of life. One is the spontaneous chemical generation without intelligent intervention and the other is the intervention of a supernatural cause.
Along with many naturalists, Richard Dawkins believed that the origin of life is merely an impression of design and there is no need at all for a divine watchmaker. He wrote:
The only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye; it does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is that of the blind watchmaker.13
Therefore, one can argue that if the naturalistic evolutionary mechanisms can account for the design in the universe, then the inference to an intelligent origin is false. If everything can be accounted for by evolution, then there is no need for an intelligent designer.
However, biologists such as Dawkins who insist that the naturalistic evolution operates merely on the principles of time and chance forget that it also depends on the laws of a universe that is not the product of time and chance.14 Physicist Stephen Barr writes:
When examined carefully, scientific accounts of natural processes are never really about order emerging from mere chaos, or form emerging from mere formlessness. On the contrary, they There are two views of the origin of life, spontaneous chemical generation without intelligent intervention and intervention of a supernatural cause.
, although often in a secret or hidden way. When we see situations that appear haphazard, or things that appear amorphous, automatically or spontaneously “arranging themselves” into orderly patterns, what we find in every case is that what appeared to be haphazard actually had a great deal of order built into it….What Dawkins does not seem to appreciate is that his blind watchmaker is something even more remarkable than Paley’s watches. Paley finds a “watch” and asks how such a thing could have come to be there by chance. Dawkins finds an immense automated factory that blindly constructs watches and feels that he has completely answered Paley’s point. But that is absurd. How can a factory that makes watches be less in need of explanation than the watches themselves?15
In other words, the naturalistic point of view, far from invalidating the need for intelligent design, arguably does nothing more than push the argument from the primary to secondary causes or, from the living organism to the mechanisms of how it originated.16
The naturalist very often would claim that the reason they exclude the intelligent designer is because it cannot be quantified, measured, or experimented on. So a question arises. Can science detect the divine watch-maker concerning questions of origin?
The naturalist believes that just because he can understand the mechanisms of life, he is justified in concluding that there is no God because science cannot detect God in it. This reasoning commits a logical error that confuses mechanism with agency. Let us say that a kid would like to know who designed a train engine. One way of doing it is by examining the whole train and its mechanism of how it works and then proclaims that there is no Mr. Train inside the engine to make it move. Besides, if the kid grows up to study train engineering, he would discover that he did not need to introduce Mr. Train as an explanation for its working. His understanding of the impersonal processes of internal combustion would be enough to do that. However, if he concludes that his understanding of how it works has now made it impossible to believe in the existence of a Mr. Train who made the engine in the first place, then this would be false. Had there never been a Mr. Train to design the mechanism, none would exist for him to understand. In the same way the creator cannot be expelled from the theory just because evolution may be a mechanism for the origin of life.
It is a mistake to suppose that our scientific understanding of the impersonal principles that govern the universe makes belief in the existence of a personal Creator and designer unnecessary. It is important to note that God is not a mechanism but an agent who is the reason behind the mechanism. Now, I am not suggesting that God is an alternative explanation to that of the engine. Both the agent and the mechanism are involved in the comprehensive explanation of the existence and working of the universe as a whole. Naturalism and evolution fail to account for the origin of life, the complexity of life, and the apparent design found in all living creatures. In fact, Life itself screams intelligent design.
– Balajied Nongrum is Speaker and Trainer with RZIM Life Focus Society based in Shillong.
(The article was first published in Engage, December 2016)
1 William Paley, Natural Theology. http://www.wmcarey.edu/carey/paley/paley.htm [Accessed 1/29/2011] as quoted in Clay Jones, Prepared Defense: Fast Answers to Tough Questions, v. 2.0, (Austin, TX: Word search, 2011), s.v. “Intelligent design.”
2 John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford: Lion Hudson plc, 2009), 136.
3 Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God. Colorado: NavPress, 1993, 106
4 Ross, 107
5 Ross, 108
6 Fazale Rana, and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004. 63-79
7 Fazale Rana, and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004. 79
8 Stanley Miller and Harold Urey, through an experiment, were able to generate amino acids by sending an electrical discharge through a combination of water, hydrogen, methane and ammonia.
9 Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin. (New York: 1986) 43.
10 J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, (Baker Book House; 1987) 220
11 Rana and Ross, 95
12 Moreland, 220
13 Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Longmans, 1986), 14.
14 Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (First Jaico Impression: 2008), 151.
15 Stephen Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 78-79, 111 as quoted in Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (First Jaico Impression: 2008), 152.
16 Lennox, 91