For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Rom 1:20
“The science is solid and the computer animations are superb. This is a great film.”
—Philip S. Skell, Ph.D. Member, National Academy of Sciences
The scientific case for intelligent design
Unlocking the Mystery of Life tells the story of contemporary scientists who are advancing a powerful but controversial idea—the theory of intelligent design. Using state-of-the-art computer animation, the video transports you into the interior of the living cell to explore systems and machines that bear the unmistakable hallmarks of design: Rotary motors that spin at 100,000 rpm. A biological information processing system more powerful than any computer network. And a thread-like molecule that stores instructions to build the essential components of every living organism on earth.
In 2003, the Public Broadcasting Serviceaired a Nova-style video program titled Unlocking the Mystery of Life. This program is critical of Darwinism and features Michael Behe’s ideas about irreducible complexity. The National Center for Science Education has a critical response to this program on its website written by Andrea Bottaro, an immunologist on the faculty of the 15 University of Rochester Medical Center. Here is what Bottaro says about irreducible complexity:
The crucial argument … widely discussed in the video is the concept of “irreducibly complex” systems, and the purported impossibility of conventional evolutionary mechanisms to generate them. Although it was quickly rejected by biologists on theoretical and empirical grounds, “irreducible complexity” has remained the main staple of [Intelligent Design] Creationism. Ironically, this argument was just recently delivered a fatal blow in the prestigious science journal Nature, where a computer simulation based entirely on evolutionary principles (undirected random mutation and selection) was shown to be able to generate “irreducibly complex” outputs.[ref#7]
This all sounds quite impressive and damning until one follows the paper trail.
What about reference #7? This reference is to Richard Lenski et al.’s May 8, 2003 paper in Nature titled “The Evolutionary Origin of Complex Features.” This paper describes a computer simulation and thus contains no actual biology. Go to the discussion section, and you’ll read: “Some readers might suggest that we ‘stacked the deck’ by studying the evolution of a complex feature that could be built on simpler functions that were also useful. However, that is precisely what evolutionary theory requires….” In other words, the computer programmers built into the simulation what they thought evolution needed to make it work. The validity of this study therefore depends on whether the simulation faithfully models biological reality.
Unfortunately, the simulation presupposes the very point at issue. It therefore begs the question and doesn’t prove a thing about real-life biological evolution. The Lenski simulation requires that complex systems exhibiting complex functions can always be built up from (or decomposed into) simpler systems exhibiting simpler functions. This is a much stronger assumption than merely allowing that complex systems may include functioning subsystems. Just because a complex system can include functioning subsystems doesn’t mean that it decomposes into a collection of subsystems each of which is presently functional or vestigial of past function and thus amenable to shaping by natural selection.
The simulation by Lenski et al. assumes that all functioning biological systems are evolutionary kludges of subsystems that presently have function or previously had function. But there’s no evidence that real-life irreducibly complex biochemical machines, for instance, can be decomposed in this way. If there were, the Lenski et al. computer simulation would be strong>unnecessary. And without it, their demonstration is an exercise in irrelevance. Bottaro’s “fatal blow” against irreducible complexity is therefore nothing of the sort. Behe’s ideas about irreducible complexity, and in particular the criticism they raise of Darwinism, remain very much alive and topics for discussion among biologists.
ORIGIN OF LIFE. Why do textbooks claim that the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how life’s building blocks may have formed on the early Earth — when conditions on the early Earth were probably nothing like those used in the experiment, and the origin of life remains a mystery?
DARWIN’S TREE OF LIFE. Why don’t textbooks discuss the “Cambrian explosion,” in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor — thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?
HOMOLOGY. Why do textbooks define homology as similarity due to common ancestry, then claim that it is evidence for common ancestry — a circular argument masquerading as scientific evidence?
VERTEBRATE EMBRYOS. Why do textbooks use drawings of similarities in vertebrate embryos as evidence for their common ancestry — even though biologists have known for over a century that vertebrate embryos are not most similar in their early stages, and the drawings are faked?
ARCHAEOPTERYX. Why do textbooks portray this fossil as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds — even though modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it?
PEPPERED MOTHS. Why do textbooks use pictures of peppered moths camouflaged on tree trunks as evidence for natural selection — when biologists have known since the 1980s that the moths don’t normally rest on tree trunks, and all the pictures have been staged?
DARWIN’S FINCHES. Why do textbooks claim that beak changes in Galapagos finches during a severe drought can explain the origin of species by natural selection — even though the changes were reversed after the drought ended, and no net evolution occurred?
MUTANT FRUIT FLIES. Why do textbooks use fruit flies with an extra pair of wings as evidence that DNA mutations can supply raw materials for evolution — even though the extra wings have no muscles and these disabled mutants cannot survive outside the laboratory?
HUMAN ORIGINS. Why are artists’ drawings of ape-like humans used to justify materialistic claims that we are just animals and our existence is a mere accident — when fossil experts cannot even agree on who our supposed ancestors were or what they looked like?
EVOLUTION A FACT? Why are we told that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a scientific fact — even though many of its claims are based on misrepresentations of the facts?