Thirteen : Mind Body Connection and Spirituality
Chapter 50. Signature in a Cell, Aging, Disease and Death
Intelligent Design - Metaphysical
Speculation or Science?
Left Image: DNA double helix, courtesy of
The central argument of Stephen Meyer’s book, “Signature
in a Cell”, is that coded instruction sets in cellular DNA, just like computer
code, require intelligence for their origin.(1) Meyer calls this the best inference from the
evidence, a valid argument used in science.
I think this argument is a valid one.
One can make the inference that the origin of information indicates
intelligence. Meyer's argument remains
science because it stops short of the next step, which is to make the
metaphysical inference that the “intelligent agent” that originates the information
in nature is God, the creator of the universe.
This metaphysical inference is the old “Watchmaker Argument” by William
Paley written in 1826.(2) So, in order to
avoid this for the moment, let’s not make this metaphysical inference.
Origination of New Code
We can observe a coded instruction set originate
when a computer programmer writes new code for a computer program. The human computer programmer is said to be
“an intelligent agent”. We can actually
sit behind the man as he does his work, observing new computer software being
written. What about computer software in
nature? Unfortunately none of us current
day humans will ever directly observe the origin of the first information in
DNA, at the dawn of life billions of years ago.
So once we agree that the best inference is that
coded instructions in DNA originated from intelligence, then what? We are left with the problem of defining
“intelligence”. We think we know what
intelligence is, yet once we look at the definition, we discover that we really
don’t have a good scientific definition of intelligence. I suspect the reason for this is that our
recognition of intelligence is somewhat subjective.
Other People’s Intelligence
For example, one of the first things we do when
meeting a new person, is to try assessing that person’s level of
intelligence. Some of us have an innate
ability to do this. Some of us lack this ability. When it comes to reading other people, in
addition to intelligence, we are
interested in other qualities in the new person. Are they a good or a bad person, are they
trustworthy, truthful, capable of love, are they happy, depressed, confident,
fearful? Is this new person a threat to
me in any way? Will they be a potential
ally or a foe?
is in the Subjective Realm
We can also try to assess the intelligence of
animals, such as our cats and dogs that we are familiar with around the
house. We can also get the feeling that
there is artificial intelligence in some forms of computer software such as
chess programs that exhibit a form of artificial intelligence. Again, we do not have any instruments to
measure intelligence in an objective way.
IQ testing doesn’t seem to be a very good tool. Our knowledge of intelligence seems to remain
in the subjective realm. Science is
concerned with the objective realm, and doesn’t do very well with the
Implications of A Non-Human Intelligent Agent.
Let's assume that we all agree that this is a valid
inference, that the coded instruction set in DNA is evidence of the work of an
the Intelligent Agent Friend or Foe?
This brings us back to popular movies like Space
Odyssey or Contact in which extra-terrestrial intelligence is the subject of
the movie. When primitive man came
across tracks or markings indicating an intelligent agent, the intelligent
agent was either another primitive human, or else an animal. Either way, the highest priority
consideration is whether the intelligent agent is a threat or a friend. This is true for ANY new found intelligent
agent in the wild, and must be applied to our new found intelligent agent, the
originator of the information in coded DNA.
a Foe, is the Foe Dangerous to Me?
The first thing we would ask is, "what is the
level of this intelligence relative to mine or other humans?" Molecular biologists have concluded that the
complexity and elegance of the coded instruction set in DNA is far in excess of
anything humans could produce. This is a
frightening realization, because, if this intelligent agent is a threat rather
than a friend, then we are at a serious disadvantage. A foe with more intelligence means a foe with
better technology and better weapons.
Disease and Death
Fortunately for us, it seems that the intelligent
agent, if there was malevolent one, has left the scene. And if the agent was a threat, then the only
malevolent features being left behind for us are the coded instruction sets for
pre-programmed aging, disease and death.
I would remiss if I ended this discussion on such a pessimistic and
depressing note. There is another take
There is another more optimistic viewpoint based on
our understanding of the coded instruction sets in our DNA. This is the miracle of life, our own
individual life that began as two microscopic specks of matter containing
paired instruction sets in the DNA. The
underlying intelligence required for the origin of this instruction set is
something the ancients understood well.
Whether we use the most powerful instruments to examine the galaxies in
space or the smallest particles of the atom, or whether we use the naked eye
and the five senses to examine our immediate natural world, we are confronted
with the obvious conclusion that the world is permeated with intelligence. This intelligence makes all life possible,
including our individual life. This realization
leads to a sense of gratitude to the Creator, and a sense of wonder and
awe. Yes, we are faced with the eventual
prospect of aging, disease and death.
But until that time comes, we will celebrate life.
for Chapter 50. Signature In A Cell,
Aging Disease and Death
in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer,
HarperOne (June 23, 2009)
2) http://books.google.com/books/about/Natural_theology_or.html?id=cvAQAAAAYAAJ Natural theology: or Evidences
of the existence and attributes of the Deity, collected from the appearances of
nature, by William Paley,1826
,Lincoln-Rembrandt Pub.; 12 edition (August 1986)
Author Jeffrey Dach MD