Whether or not the order and complexity of nature reveals an intelligent and purposeful design has been debated since the time of the great Greek philosophers and their followers. Plato and Aristotle both forwarded the notion that a purposeful intelligence was and is the driving force behind the cosmos.
The Roman philosopher and orator Cicero wrote that “the (presence of a) divine power is to be in the principle of reason which pervades the whole of nature.”1 This teleological argument, or presentation of an argument from the position of intelligent design, is the belief in a Creator based on the perceived evidence of order, purpose, design, direction and meaning in nature and the natural order of things.
What it boils down to as an end point is that God exists. The basic trail of this stated belief begins with the observation that nature demonstrates complexity, order, adaption, purpose and beauty. These features aren’t explained by random or unplanned processes, but are the product of a mind or source of intelligence. This mind has intelligently designed and produced nature including all its natural laws. God is defined as the mind that produces nature and all the natural laws that govern nature. And so we end up at the place we began: God exists. Thus, an Intelligent Designer is the explanation for the origin and variety of life in the earth.
Intelligent design theorist Dr. Paul Nelson, currently a Fellow of the Discovery Institute and Adjunct Professor in the MA Program in Science & Religion and Apologetics at Biola University, is the featured Friday evening speaker at the On Guard Conference beginning this Friday evening, November 5th at Denton Bible Church in Denton, TX. The conference’s first session kicks off at 7:00 PM and Dr. Nelson’s session begins at 8:30 PM. Dr. Nelson persuasively argues that Darwin’s theory of evolution fails to adequately account for what we know about biological life. He further argues that Intelligent Design provides far superior explanations for the complexity and diversity of life in his session titled, “The Power and Promise of Intelligent Design in Biology.”
“Mainly what I address are questions having to do with the origin of life, the origin of animals—where did animals come from—does evolution by natural selection give a better explanation, or does intelligent design give a better explanation?” stated Dr. Nelson. “I also address questions about the nature of science itself, for instance, must science be strictly naturalistic or can it employ the notion of intelligence in explanation.”
With the philosophy of science in biology and evolutionary science his emphasis, Dr. Nelson holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Chicago. Dr. Nelson said, “My work does touch on the relationship between science and faith. And because I am an intelligent design theorist it does bear on apologetic questions. I’ve been involved in this debate (between evolution and intelligent design) really since my early twenties.”
Opponents of 19th century naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection have argued that an alternate and better explanation exists to explain the origin of the species, the complexity of nature and the range of life found in the earth. A key mechanism of evolution, natural selection is defined as “the process in nature by which only the organisms best adapted to their environment tend to survive and transmit their genetic characteristics in increasing numbers to succeeding generations while those less adapted tend to be eliminated.” An archaic way of stating this is “survival of the fittest.”
As explained by Dr. Nelson, a brief definition of intelligent design proposes that “…certain patterns in nature are better explained by an intelligent cause—that is, a cause something like a mind—than it is (explained) by any physical cause, or a cause without a mind. This distinction actually is something that we use all the time. “In fact,” Dr. Nelson continued, “human beings make these inferences so readily that they’re not aware that they’re running through a logical pattern, but they are. When you find certain patterns in nature, the logical chain that you run through eliminates (random) natural causes, or you set those aside and you infer that “this pattern requires an intelligent sense, some sense of mind like my own.”
In his session at the On Guard Conference Friday night, Dr. Nelson will briefly show how these inferences work, why they’re fully rational, how these inferences can be tested and why science needs this mode of reasoning to be fruitful. Using the first century A.D. example of Roman soldiers who saw Stonehenge while colonizing the island of Britain, Dr. Nelson elaborated on how “inferences to intelligent causation are among the most stable things that we know as human beings.”
“At that time (1st century A.D.), Stonehenge was already an ancient site,” said Dr. Nelson. “It was very, very old. These soldiers made the inference that Stonehenge was caused by intelligence. That inference was true then, it’s true today, and it will be true when our current theories of physics are long gone. So inferences are stable pieces of knowledge that human beings generate by looking at certain patterns and saying that pattern had an intelligent, not a natural cause.”
Of course, in many circles the debate will carry on between intelligent design and natural selection, but Dr. Nelson sees intelligent design as an inviting scientific answer to the debate. “I think that right now there are puzzles in biology that have existed for many decades that evolutionary theory has not been able to solve.” Dr. Nelson also said that, “I look at the logical structure of these inferences (of intelligence), how they work, and how it is that we know that certain patterns in the world were caused by intelligence. I think that mode of reasoning, of saying that these markers indicate an intelligent cause can be applied, not just in archeology, psychology or the other human sciences, but in fact we can apply them to biology.”
A field such as historical archaeology depends at its core on the archaeologist being able to infer that the material substance of an ancient piece of pottery is not a naturally caused object, but is a piece of a clay pot that originated from a cause that had a mind. According to Dr. Nelson, the same method or reasoning can apply to biology when the agent of cause implicated is not a human being. “If for instance, an Intelligent Designer brought the first cell into existence, (then) that’s not a human being causing that event to happen. So you have to be able to expand the tool kit of science beyond strictly natural causes that we observe today.”
Examining this thought further, Dr. Nelson said, “Cells as (living) entities, even the simplest bacterial cell exhibits such astonishing, ultra high tech sophistication in its information storage and replication, and (also) in the microscopic factories that it uses to build proteins and process raw materials into the things that it needs to make a living. In other words, the sign of design present there in a single cell is so overwhelming that I regard it as unreasonable not to allow for inferences to intelligence. Especially if those inferences can be tested, as I think they can.”
For some, the advancement of intelligent design may seem to pose a threat to the purity of the scientific method, but Dr. Nelson sees it differently. “Excluding intelligence from the tool kit of science does real damage to the enterprise of science itself,” he said. “What I want to show is that science has nothing to fear from the concept of intelligent design. It brings explanatory power to the open questions of biology, such as the origin of life, the origin of complexity. And biology needs this concept to move forward. We’ve been stuck in a rut for 150 years since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. We need to break out of that rut and move science forward.”
Dr. Nelson’s presentation at the On Guard Conference will also deal with the Apostle Paul’s comments on Romans 1. Dr. Nelson pointed out “that the things of nature testify of God’s existence and authorship. There’s an unmistakable, clear signal from living things that they had a Creator, that they had a Designer. I want to help people see that this signal is there, it’s real and it’s unmistakable.”
It’s clear from the focused and intelligent passion within Dr. Nelson that his goal is to see people’s faith strengthened by what they hear, and that people will be encouraged and excited by the ideas of intelligent design with the hope that many will join the growing network of people who are trying to move these ideas forward.
1 Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicero