Saturday, September 4, 2010

Design in Different Contexts

Examining a skyscraper, an automobile, or a fine sculpture, we would have little difficulty recognizing that they are designer-conceived and artisan-executed. One could also admire the “beauty” of each achievement, especially in the case of the sculpture.

When we consider a cell in the human body, most people would recognize its design features. This recognition is based on clues that its structures seem systematically fashioned and organized, complete with passageways and enclosures analogous to those in a skyscraper or automobile. We correctly infer a causal agent, a designer.

Some physical systems manifest great beauty but do not signal design features in quite the same manner. For example, weather phenomena exhibit majestic patterns: the shape of a snowflake, the structure of a hurricane, or the deposition of sediment at a river delta. We could experience a sense of worship observing a mountain range, a colorful sunset, or a spiral galaxy seen through a telescope. Each of these systems obeys the determinate laws of physics now in effect in our cosmos. The design inference relates to the original establishment of “rules of the game,” the definite physical laws and constants established from the beginning of time.

Physical scientists revel in the causal logic of physical systems. They experience satisfaction dealing with causes and effects which can be described mathematically. They appreciate order and predictability, a characteristic quite evident as they discover more about how the universe operates.

Biological systems manifest design and order at a different, perhaps higher level. Physicist Walter M. Elsasser (1904-1991), recognized for proposing the dynamo theory to explain earth’s magnetism, became interested in biological issues late in his life. Elsasser recognized the overwhelming complexity of the cell, realizing that its functions could not be explained in a reductionist manner as could physical systems. He became interested in a new field, today called systems biology, in which the complex cellular interactions are explained holistically. Stated another way, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Some naturalistic bio-scientists take this idea even further, assigning aggregates of molecules the ability to "think," or even self-organize.

Walter Thorson, writing in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF), journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), states “Elsasser realized that the phenomena of greatest importance for biology arise from highly coordinated functions of structurally complex systems.” Biological (living) systems manifest a different type of logic--“bio-logic.” Thorson calls it abstract logic contrasted with the causal logic of physical systems. More simply stated, there is something about living systems which transcends the operation of even the most complex physical mechanisms. Living systems function, reproduce, and grow using information programmed by a code--always a sign of the operation of an intelligent mind.

The Creator reserved unique capabilities for living entities, especially the highest form of living beings--man. “And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7 NIV) Reflecting on these truths is an occasion for the most reverent worship.