At the end of each year, I review the achievements of the smart design movement and then anticipate what will happen in the next season. Every year the arguments for design grow stronger and the challenges to the secular creation narratives about the origins and development of life increase in number and severity. Attempts to prevent the public from accessing the truth appear more desperate and misguided.
The situation is like a poorly built dam holding back rising water. Water currents break through in more and more places, and the current in each place accelerates. The crucial question is not if, but when the dam will collapse.
Here I will only discuss three of the highlights from 2021 for the Center for Science & Culture. I will also describe how these successes accelerate the erosion of the materialistic philosophical assumptions that hinder scientific progress. And I will evaluate its impact on the future of the smart design movement.
Return of the hypothesis of God
The first highlight was the publication of Stephen Meyer’s new book. For the past three years, along with several other scientists, I have helped Meyer research the evidence of design at the beginning of the universe, fine-tuning the laws of nature, and biological information. The countless hours of study and analysis culminated in the publication of Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Spirit Behind the Universe.
For the first time, Meyer fully integrates the evidence for design in cosmology with that in biology. It illustrates that the common thread that runs through all areas of science is information. And he explains why the information embedded in nature clearly refers to the Acts of a supreme mind. Meyer shows that the design hypothesis is not only essential to our understanding of the universe and life, but that design forms the basis of science itself.
The strength of Meyer’s arguments is demonstrated by the glowing notes that the book received by senior physicists, chemists, biologists, historians and theologians, including a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. It is on is reflected in the reactions of the critics which primarily involve misrepresentations of the book’s contents or misunderstandings of science. Or they are centered on arguments that Meyer has already addressed in detail (here, here, here).
I have heard feedback from multiple sources on how the book has encouraged the faith of many religious readers and how it has challenged atheists and agnostics to reconsider their philosophical obligations.
Publication of the waiting time paper
A second highlight were Ola Hössjer, Günter Bechly and Ann Gaugers publish an article, central to the design debate in which Journal of Theoretical Biology. Your paper presents the mathematically strictest model to date for waiting times for coordinated mutations. the Wait problem is the excessive time required for mutations that are essential for an innovation to occur and propagate in a population. Your paper expands on previous work that has already shown the terrible challenge of this limitation to evolutionary scenarios.
Of particular importance are Durrett and Schmidt published a work in 2008 which estimates the average waiting time for two coordinated mutations to appear in populations of different sizes. Their model was based on unrealistic assumptions that strongly favor evolution. The aim of their analysis was to show the plausibility of macroevolutionary narratives (e.g. the transformation of a fish into an amphibian).
Despite the authors’ clear bias, they acknowledge that the average time it takes for two coordinated mutations to appear in supposed ancestors of humans is over 100 million years. Applying their equations to whale evolution gives an estimate of about 40 million years. In both cases, the maximum possible time in which evolution has created such novel creatures based on the fossil record is much shorter than the time it takes to obtain even the smallest fraction of the new genetic information.
The paper by Hössjer, Bechly and Gauger proves that the waiting times are even longer than Durrett and Schmidt’s assessment. Crucially, the time increases exponentially with the number of mutations coordinated. As a result, the waiting time for evolutionary scenarios becomes prohibitively long even for the most humble transitions or innovations.
The discrepancy between the time available for major transformations and the time it takes to generate the new genetic information is comparable to the discrepancy between a world record pole vault and the distance to Alpha Centauri. Accepting the standard evolutionary model in its entirety comes close to giving up belief in mathematics.
Conference on Engineering in Living Systems
A third highlight was the impact of the Conference on Engineering in Living Systems (CELS). Biologists, engineers, and other academics came together to examine how the application of engineering principles to the study of biology enables deeper insights into the organization and operation of living systems. The speakers addressed the revolution in systems biology that resulted from the collaboration between systems engineers and biologists in their research. The engineers’ experience and knowledge has resulted in evolutionary assumptions being replaced by design-based assumptions, language and methods (here, here, here).
Systems biologists are increasingly realizing that they need to incorporate the core concepts of intelligent design into their analyzes, albeit in a different language, in order to improve their understanding of biological systems. Michael Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity is contained in the principle of holism. William Dembski’s formulation of the specified complexity includes the biologists’ understanding of functional modules. And more generally, the heuristics of intelligent design is simply a more general rubric for the application of engineering principles to the study of life.
The speakers described how technology-based models explain adaptation better than natural selection (here, here, here, here). And they detailed how the predictions of these models are corroborated by a spate of new research on adaptation to different species, including model organisms (here, here, here). In addition, presentations demonstrated the explanatory power of applying the design models to topics such as ecological interactions and molecular machines.
The effects of the conference will linger for years. Participants with training in various engineering fields have teamed up with biologists to apply their expertise to specific biological systems in order to further demonstrate the underlying design logic. We expect that the projects will produce publications in leading journals in the next few years, which should significantly advance biologists’ understanding of life. We will not be promoting the research teams’ progress immediately to protect the careers of researchers, but their work will, in the long run, demonstrate the need for creative approaches.
Look to the future
These and other achievements over the past year predict the shift in the relationship between smart design and the established scientific communities. In the past, interactions were often centered around conflict, as each community approached research from the perspective of irreconcilable philosophical assumptions. But now the tacit assumptions that guide research by systems biologists are in line with those of the intelligent design movement.
As a result, design advocates can continue to help investigators avoid the misdirection that regularly results from evolutionary assumptions (e.g., misidentification of junk DNA). We can also work with established researchers to apply engineering principles to the study of biology. This partnership will only accelerate progress in unraveling the mysteries of life.