The Cosmos as Mystery. Intelligent Design? What does a wider study of nature reveal? How much jury-rigging or tinkering might I.D.ists be willing to admit was part of the "design?"

Missing Link

The I.D.ist is like a Catholic theologian who starts out by agreeing with the agnostic that the cosmos is mysterious, but in the next breath tries to convince the agnostic that the cosmos revolves around the “holy mysteries” of one particular interpretation of one particular divine revelation. To the I.D.ist that revelation is “Intelligent Design” which solves all cosmic mysteries in one fell swoop.

But the cosmos remains a mystery, both chaotic and complex, as both the new science of chaos theory, and the new science of complexity theory, have demonstrated.

And we are far from having examined the cosmos beyond earth to see whether it might contain simple forms of replicating molecules perhaps at the core of comets (where water may remain liquid for long periods of time), or on moons in our solar system (those with liquid water), or outside our solar system. The cosmos is like a tremendous laboratory running an experiment involving far with more variables (and far more varying concentrations of molecules under different conditions) than can be found in a merely human laboratory, and it has run for billions of year and has enough energy to run for billions more. Perhaps the Designer is a Tinkerer? But in that case how would we be able to tell the difference between a tinkering Designer and a cosmos that “peoples?” (makes people like an ocean makes waves). Maybe we donʼt come into the cosmos at birth, but come out of it?

I.D.ists claim that the only options are “design” or “chance,” without defining either word very clearly.

What do I.D.ists mean by “design?” How much “design” was involved in a multi-billion year process that brought the first self-replicating chemicals and then cells to life? The earth held nothing but single celled organisms for a couple billion years, before the first multi-cellular organisms ever arose. And what kind of design leaves behind so much death right from the beginning, and so many extinct species, so many cousin-species on evolutionary-like bushes that kept dying off, often the whole bush died off, and long before the first upright primate species ever began to appear. Do I.D.ists believe humanity was “designed” in the sense of being “aimed at” from the beginning, and that evolution has hit its peak with humanity, and our present species has nowhere else to go from here either naturally or artificially? But what about other species? Maybe we can raise some of them to sentience, or even raise silicon-based life forms to sentience, and they may exceed our knowledge (or our compassion) some day? And we may be gone, perhaps we will be gone before we know it, and some other sentient species will arise later, maybe not as sentient as us, maybe more so but involving a different type of societal organization? The cosmos has billions of years yet to shine. Thereʼs stellar nurseries where countless stars are still forming, and new planets are forming around such new young stars.

What processes of “design” in particular have I.D.ists proposed? Is the Designer constantly tweaking DNA oh so invisibly, having a sip of tea, then tweaking it some more? Is the Designer popping whole new species into existence, head to toe, every ten thousand years, and still doing so, even after humans have invented cell phone cameras, but keeping it a secret by always doing it out of sight? Why does the Designer favor insects when it comes to designing new species? Is He trying to tell us something by the fact that different species of beetles number in the hundreds of thousands, and that mites, those tiny parasites, are the commonest known multi-cellular species of all, with perhaps a million species of mite on the earth? Does the Designer ever have to watch out for his little darlings once he has tweaked their DNA, keeping predators and natural disasters (and natural mutagenic chemicals and events in the cell, or radiation and cosmic rays from without the cell) from ruining his proposed plans of having such newly tweaked DNA passed to the next generation? If the Designer is watching out for his freshly tweaked darlings, then why mass extinction events? Is that the Designer shaking his Etch-I-Sketch?

Is the common idea of “design” for the average I.D.ist simply anything what “works?”—from the human brain to the malarial parasite to earthquakes. Yes, earthquakes. One prominent Christian apologist named Dinesh, explained in Christianity Today that earthquakes were a consequence of plate tectonics and plate tectonics are necessary in order to bring important minerals to the surface for life to continue, as if he knew for certain that an infinite Designer could not have designed things differently (except for that Designerʼs promise to design a new heavens and earth, and new heavenly bodies, lacking the horrendously frightening and deadly events found here and now, so I guess Dinesh believes God CAN come up with better designs).

But not everything that “works” was built in a day, so what is “design,” really? The human species is currently the most advanced at being able to observe and replicate nature. We are like replicating mechanisms (DNA is also, so I guess “replication” is in our genes, to use a pun, and maybe it even lay in the heart of the cosmosʼ genes judging by some hypotheses regarding this mysterious cosmos). Humans spot similarities/patterns in nature and can replicate them.

Therefore, replication is something essential for life that takes place on both a molecular level and also inside the human brain-mind. But even when we replicate things in nature it takes us time and failures until we reach success. We are tinkerers. We didnʼt go from mud huts to the Empire State Building in a day. Neither did nature. Many structures the human mind tries to replicate have flaws and we suffer failures. As observant as he was, Leonardo da Vinci did not produce a human powered flying machine in his lifetime (regardless of what you see in movies or TV). The Wright brothers did not get off the ground in one go, and their successful flight only lasted seconds. Probably the same result was true the first time a feathered bipedal dinosaur glided through the air, it probably only lasted seconds, meanwhile other dinosaurs were evolving in other directions, and they became extinct. The birds survived, so they are the dinosaurʼs greatest success story, while the vast majority of dinosaur species are now dust. Neither were the earliest known birds in the fossil record well designed for flight. They still had long bony tails that create drag, solid bones rather than lighter hollow ones; and they had unfused finger bones which makes flight less manageable, not more so, especially over longer distance; and they had a triangle-shaped thick skull like those found on reptiles not the smoother skull with thinner bone found in more recent species; and they had teeth, and a small breast bone, not the body-length keel bone of modern day birds to which are attached thick arm flapping muscles, but instead a relatively smaller keel bone in the middle of their chests to which only much smaller muscles could have been attached, allowing them less powerful flight strokes. And all of the earliest known fossil birds were “designed” with similar deficiencies and all are extinct today.

So we see from the fossil record that whatever design there is in nature it works in a tinkering sort of way (even feathers were not necessarily designed for flight, but have been found on a variety of dinosaurs, and it is doubtful that all of them were the direct ancestors of birds). Some I.D.ists infer that perhaps molecular machines inside the cells arose overnight, arranged altogether in irreducible fashion, without any stages of tinkering in between, without trial and error. But looking at the macroscopic world of nature one wonders how they could believe that is so. Birds did not come about overnight in irreducible fashion. They started out on the ground and seem to be jury-rigged together.

Having looked at the idea of “design,” letʼs look at the idea of “chance.” I.D.ists often sneer at the word “chance.”

But what do scientists mean by chance? “Chance” to a scientist often means that no one has yet found a way to detect, measure or calculate all the different things that can and do happen naturally, due to their great multiplicity, unmanageable size, or speed, so in many cases we know neither all the possibilities inherent in nature, nor even the general probabilities. That doesnʼt mean such things cannot happen. No one has proven much either way about what cosmoses can or canʼt “do,” same for replicating molecules.

Take the famous X-ray experiments done on fruit flies in the 60s, bombarding their gonads with heroic doses of mutation-causing X-rays. That told us as much about evolution as shooting fruit flies with buckshot. The poor critters turned out monstrous. If we wanted to do an experiment illustrating evolution weʼd have to keep the mutation level nearer to normal and keep putting each new generation of fruit flies in different environments of slightly differing grades over a long period of time with lots of varieties of food to eat and choose from. Then watch to see how they evolve.

Something like that happened in Hawaiʼi, since that chain of islands began to rise from the sea about 8 million years ago, and the environments on those islands ranges from windswept beaches to green lush valleys to lofty mountainsides. About 500 species of fruit flies are found only on the Hawaiian islands (about 25% of all fruit fly species worldwide!) And concerning the evolution of new fruit fly genera, rather than simply new species…

Reading a book on Drosophilia, I discovered the answer to the question of why no new genera of fruit flies have evolved in Hawaiʼi despite the hundreds of species. It is due simply to the classification approach used by Drosophilia workers. The Hawaiʼian lineage is apparently descended from within the genus Drosophilia, as presently defined. Based on cladistic terminology, one genus should not give rise to another genus. Rather than reclassifying the 2000 or so “Drosophilia” into multiple genera, fruit fly workers use a variety of subgenera and informal terms to group them. In fact, genus names have been proposed for some of the Hawaiʼian lineages. [Dr. David Campbell, Biology Department, Saint Maryʼs College of Maryland]

And in answer to the question, “How to test that all Hawaiian fruit flies descended from one common ancestral population that began with a founder event,” the answer is to “Select many characters of Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian fruit flies, and use them to develop a phylogeny, using some related fly as an outgroup.” Such characters include the fact that Hawaiian fruit flies are larger and more brightly colored compared with the rest of the fruit flies on earth, and have even evolved a type of “song” that the mainland fruit flies never evolved, which means that some new morphologies and behaviors peculiar to certain species of fruit flies have evolved on the Hawaiʼian islands.

Ecologists believe Hawaiʼi has so many kinds of fruit flies because the islands were isolated for millions of years and when the first fruit flies arrived, they were able to evolve so many different types because there were few rival species of flies present, and there were also a wide variety of environments left open for them to occupy. When people first arrived at the Hawaiʼian islands centuries ago they also found that there were thousands of unique species of birds, plants, and other life forms on the islands. While it is the fruit flies that are the best known, other insect groups have also diversified. Hawaiʼi boasts the worldʼs only known carnivorous caterpillar (that feasts on, you guessed it, fruit flies, probably because such flies were the commonest most plentiful food flitting around the branches next to them), the happy face spider and a host of fascinating endemic arthropods, many of which are brilliantly illustrated in the book,

  • Hawaiʼian Insects and Their Kin” by Francis Howarth and William Mull.
  • Lush, and also in the book, “Remains of a Rainbow; Rare Plants and Animals of Hawaiʼi” by David Liittschwager and Susan Middleton, published by National Geographic.
  • See also “Hawaiian Natural History, Ecology, and Evolution” by Alan Ziegler, published by University of Hawaii Press which traces the natural history of the Hawaiʼian Archipelago, as well as plant and animal evolution, flightless birds and their fossil sites.

Sadly, people have over time brought many new species with them to the islands, and the competition is driving most of the native species into extinction. Even the unique Hawaiian fruit flies are disappearing, replaced by flies from other parts of the world. The curse of what are known as invasive species is now worldwide. Surely the Designer must know what happens when species are no longer separated by long distances and they meet and compete on each otherʼs turf? It seems a waste to design so many species that get along with one another in say the Mediterranean Sea, and then some invasive species of algae from another continent on earth gets spilled into the Mediterranean, and starts to out grow all the other plant life there, endangering or even destroying whole ecosystems, loads of other species going down one after the other due to a spill of algae. I guess the Designer couldnʼt do anything about that. Or wonʼt. Not even after having spent so much time and effort carefully picking which tiny bits of each animalʼs genomes to edit for millions of years. Those species, all gone overnight, due to some other species he designed that could out compete it. I guess the Designer likes the spectator sport.

Also, the Designer may edit genes just right, but if he does, he doesnʼt clean up after himself, leaving behind loads of retroviral DNA inside the cell, thatʼs viral DNA that some virus inserted there. Thatʼs what happens when a mosquito injects a virus, or a virus is picked up by a scrape or cough or other random contact. The virus begins to inject itself into that animalʼs cells, sometimes it injects into the germ cells of that animals and the viral genes get carried along inside that animals for many generations. Not much use to the animal, though some cells have found uses for retroviral DNA, not all of it, but some uses have been noted. Fascinating how even a chance encounter with DNA from a virus can be used by the cell in some instances. That sounds suspiciously like evolution, trial and error so to speak, jury-rigged design, a Designer who tinkers round.

Speaking of a common question put forth by anti-evolutionists, one often hears it said that dogs are still dogs, we have St. Bernards, Chihuahuas, Great Danes, poodles, and hundreds of other breeds of dogs. But they are still dogs.

To which one might reply, “Then what were the ‘dog-bear’ looking fossils of the Miocene? Dogs or bears? And why canʼt creationists or I.D.ists agree on which side of the human/ape line these fossils lay on?”


How I.D. Survives, and Why the Theory of Evolution Does Too. (With Some Degree of “Natural Selection”)

Once you have a self-replicating molecule… thatʼs where the fun begins in the living world, because the cosmos keeps moving and changing, shuffling and reshuffling, living and dying. Furthermore, once you get to the point of a self-replicating molecule (even when that molecule is DNA and lay within the largest most complex of eukarotic cells) that DNA is copied Imperfectly, which helps explains why thereʼs so many different forms of living things.

One thing that helps keeps the I.D. movement afloat is that we canʼt examine the earliest living organisms and see how much trial and error they went through, how many stages and diversifications, extinctions and dead ends took place over the Billions of years on earth when only single celled organisms exited, i.e., before the first multi-cellular species began to arise. But if we had access to a basic outline of the changes in “internal cellular architecture” of major groups of single-celled organisms during those billions of years, most evolutionists bet it would resemble the record we have for the bodily architecture of major groups of macroscopic animals as seen in the fossil record, i.e., with plenty of trial and error, different stages and diversification events, dead ends, etc., which led To Present Day Internal Cellular Architecture.

Evolutionists suggest that we may one day discover some simple replicating chemicals or simple cellular organisms to study in different regions of our solar system or outside it. No laboratory is larger than the cosmos when it comes to all the possible combinations that can take place with various atoms and molecules, minerals and energies mixing over billions of years in other places in the cosmos.

And if we ever develop quantum computers and place inside them the total information of genomes and cellular architecture of every known living species of microorganism on the planet, such computers might be able to reverse engineer the most likely pathways of how life evolved, and even give us a glimpse into what the most likely earliest successful replicators (the ones leading to all of our present day surviving single celled ancestors) looked like.

There are scientists who study complexity, evolutionary algorithms and such, who want to figure out how things work, which is the first step, before proceeding to discover all the analogues of each cellular process throughout cousin species in nature. The final step is to try and discover how such processes might be related over the billions of years of individual organismic death and species extinctions, dead-ends galore.

“Codes” in nature are shorthand for a feedback loop system based on survival of that particular arrangement of atoms and molecules that make more of themselves, or donʼt. If they do, you wind up with a “code,” which is the system itself that can make more of itself. Right now it looks like natural attraction of atoms for atoms and molecules for molecules is what built the most basic of self-replicating molecules. Is there evidence of a “code” in some platonic realm that externally directs such natural attractions between atoms? We have proven in endless experiments that such and such atoms or molecules mixed together will form this and that as expected. And we know of other self-replicating molecules besides RNA and DNA. In fact lone RNA strands will replicate themselves in test tubes to form more RNA strands if the basic building blocks chemicals of RNA are present along with a little of the common mineral like zinc to speed up the process. And if you add a tiny bit of arsenic, that destroys RNA, it will break down many of the strands. But if you add the Surviving Strands of RNA to another test tube and let them reproduce more RNA strands (they never reproduce exactly the same way, thereʼs always a little difference in the way they put themselves together), adding a bit more arsenic, and repeat the process of saving the surviving strands of RNA, and allow them to make new strands in a new test tube, you will wind up with RNA strands that are increasingly more resistant to being broken down by ever larger quantities of arsenic. I guess thereʼs something to natural selection after all.

Further Reading

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