by Bill Nugent
This Defending the Faith article consists largely of a guest article by an Internet debater who gives a very clear explanation of the case for intelligent design by discussing the specified complexity of the DNA contained in every cell of every living thing. He gives a good, easy to grasp explanation of the specified complexity of biological systems and the impossibility of such complex, interdependent systems arising by chance. For example, the DNA molecule, which is the design blueprint of living things, consists of nucleotide base pairs arranged in an orderly sequence. One base pair out of order can cause a crippling mutation. Who arranged these base pairs in the first DNA molecule? Or did they arrange by chance?
The excerpt that follows is an email posted to a debate group called evolutionvsintelligentdesign2@Yahoogroups.com and read by people around the world. It gives a good feel for how these important debates are conducted. The writer identifies himself as “Jim in Vermont.” Here is the guest email which has been edited only slightly:
The following is offered as an attempt to clarify for Dave O. (and others) the difference between mere complexity and specified complexity….. Suppose that you were checking around your hotel room when you found two well-used decks of playing cards in the desk drawer. Upon closer examination, you notice that these are not ordinary decks of cards. Although each deck has 52 cards (as you would expect), neither deck has any kings, queens, jacks and so on. Instead, each card is marked with a different number (from 1 to 52). You also notice that in one deck, the cards are randomly arranged, but in the second deck, the cards are arranged in sequential order, from 1 to 52.
Now, each arrangement of cards represents one of the many possible combinations in a deck of 52 cards, and each arrangement is complex. But the first arrangement of cards (the random arrangement) is merely complex, while the second arrangement of cards (the sequential arrangement) exhibits specified complexity. Why does the second deck exhibit specified complexity? Because the arrangement of cards conforms to a specification that exists independently of any event that might have caused the arrangement to come into being, that specification being the rank order of numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…..51, 52).
So, how do we account for the arrangement of cards in each deck? The random arrangement of cards in the first deck, although improbable, could be easily explained as the product of chance (e.g., a random shuffle), because the arrangement does not exhibit specified complexity. It is the kind of arrangement of cards that we EXPECT an unintelligent cause (e.g., chance) to produce.
But what about the sequential order of cards in the second deck? How do we explain that arrangement? Could we reasonably attribute that arrangement to chance? Would chance represent the BEST explanation for the sequential arrangement of cards in the deck? Hardly. In all likelihood, the sequential arrangement of cards was produced by an intelligent agent, although we have no idea who that intelligent agent was (nor do we need to know who he was to infer that design is the best explanation for the arrangement of the second deck of cards).
Consider the number of possible combinations in a deck of 52 different cards. That number is calculated by taking the factorial of 52 (52x51x50x49x48…..x3x2x1), giving us the following result: 8.07 times 10 to the 67th power (i.e., 8.07×10^67), or, for simplicity’s sake, 10^68. That is a 1 followed by 68 zeroes. To put that number into perspective, scientists have estimated that the number of atoms in the Milky Way Galaxy is 10^65, meaning that the number of possible combinations in a deck of 52 playing cards is roughly 1,000 times larger than the number of atoms in the Milky Way Galaxy. So….if a particular arrangement of 52 cards conforms to a specification that exists independently of any event that might arrange the cards, would we EXPECT that an unintelligent cause (such as a random shuffle) would produce the specified complexity of that arrangement of cards?
Well, let’s put some people to work shuffling cards to see how likely they would be to produce – by chance – the arrangement of cards seen in the second deck of cards found in the desk drawer. We’ll employ 10 billion (10^10) people for this task. We’ll also employ very fast shufflers – each person shuffles cards at the rate of a million (10^6) times per second. We’ll also let them work for 15 billion years, estimated at 10^18 seconds. Given these parameters, our shufflers would have produced (at most) 10^34 arrangements of the cards in 15 billion years. Could one of those arrangements be the one in the second deck of cards? The possibility is vanishingly remote. The fraction of possible arrangements produced by our shufflers is 10^34 divided by 10^68, or 10^-34. That’s a decimal point followed by 33 zeroes, then a 1. Rounded off and expressed as a percentage, our shufflers would have effectively sampled zero percent of the possible arrangements of the deck of cards. To EXPECT that they would have produced the arrangement exhibiting specified complexity is beyond absurd. Yet that task is much simpler than the task faced by nature in assembling information-rich biomacromolecules (like DNA) – molecules that exhibit specified complexity (in the form of complex specified information) that exceeds the specified complexity of the second deck of cards by many orders of magnitude. Even a typical protein molecule has around 450 nucleotide base pairs assembled in proper sequence.
One might posit that unintelligent causes (like random mutations and natural selection) can produce complex specified information, but one certainly wouldn’t EXPECT them to be up to the task. And if one does so posit, then he has an awful lot to show about the creative powers of unintelligent causes. So far, no evolutionist has demonstrated that the unintelligent mechanisms embraced by neo-Darwinism are capable of producing the complex specified information that informs and shapes living things. Given that failure of evolutionary theory, it’s time to consider other possibilities, such as the possibility that intelligent design is the best explanation for the specified complexity seen in biological systems. Genuine science would have it no other way, as genuine science is open to self-correction when the inadequacies of a theory become so apparent that only the most dogmatic adherents to the theory fail to see them.
-Jim in Vermont
Creationists have been a kind of guerrilla band sniping at the gaping flaws in the theory of evolution. With the rise of the Intelligent Design movement we now also have a regular army of scientists who see the fatal flaws of evolution and who bravely contend against evolutionary dogmatism. Internet email debates are a powerful way to reach multitudes around the world.