Thursday, January 11, 2018

Intelligent Design or Intelligent Cells?

Introduce a discussion of creationism, evolution, or Intelligent Design (ID) at a mixed gathering of friends and we have the makings of a lively discussion. Blend these topics with deeper theology and we have the makings of an even livelier discussion. Many people have firm, established views and may not be happy with the divergence of opinion. It is not only variance of opinion that generates heat during such discussions, but also dissent on the interpretation of evidence. The subjects are often related to one’s religion, worldview, philosophy, or even politics.

In early 2017 Stephen Meyer of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture joined Perry Marshall, online marketing strategist and Christian evolutionary creationist on the moderated “Unbelievable” program produced at Premier Christian Radio in the UK. This medium is an outstanding radio outlet for informative and entertaining Christian programming. Both of these individuals have achieved notoriety for their Christian views. I have heard each of them deliver at least one lecture in person. Meyer is a leader in the Intelligent Design movement. Over a decade ago Marshall may have promoted the theory of Intelligent Design also, but he has modified his beliefs somewhat. Currently he holds the belief that living things, especially cells, possess the framework for expanding the ID hypothesis. He maintains that living cells are agents of intelligence. In other words, he proposes that cells are “smart.”

Neo-Darwinists have used traditional Mendelian genetic inheritance, molecular biology, and population genetics to explain evolutionary changes. Random mutation and natural selection formed the backbone of Neo-Darwinism, also called the Modern Synthesis. This theory is accepted as the textbook scientific paradigm of evolution. But the Modern Synthesis is in deep trouble. Marshall opines that in 3-20 years Neo-Darwinism will no longer be “a theory beyond doubt” as it has been relentlessly described in biology textbooks and public acclaim for scores of years.

In its place Marshall describes a “Third Way,” a view of evolution not driven by random mutation and natural selection, but rather by epigenetics, a term used only in the last few decades. This popular modern term describes the inherent adaptability of living things not due to changes in DNA. Such changes take place at the level of the cell. DNA codes for the production of many thousands of different proteins—the building blocks of the body. Beyond protein production, epigenetics governs even more fascinating gene activity and expression. 

We make use of an analogy we’ve used previously. Imagine a piece of real estate upon which municipal approval has been granted for a specific building project. Now picture all the building materials initially delivered and stored under tarps on the site property. The building constituents would not be useful until a detailed plan for their use is expressed and implemented by the construction crew. The builders’ activities are analogous to the epigenetic activity in embryonic development: the materials are governed by specific construction procedures, expressed by the expertise of the master builders.

Perry Marshall cites a conversation he had: “A few weeks ago a renowned infertility doctor from New York City was expressing to me his utter astonishment at the sophistication of the first few minutes of embryo development in the womb. ‘We know nothing!’ he exclaimed.” The doctor’s “ignorance” indicated his wonder at incredible epigenetic processes of body construction during the crucial early hours of embryonic development.

In January and February 2014 our blog dealt extensively with the wonders of epigenetics in the pre-natal production of a human baby at the cellular level. How could Marshall say that cells are “agents of intelligence?” And how could he say that cells are “smart?” We link one of those posts below and suggest you link to eight or ten “older” or “newer” posts to access the complete series:

In a future post we plan to discuss the differences between the views of Perry Marshall and Stephen Meyer. Their views on evolution and intelligent design are related to theological realities in fascinating ways.