Bill Schultz Id Not

Were Humans Intelligently Designed?

Science Says No!

by Bill Schultz

Table of Contents


Introduction

As an officer of the Internet Infidels, I frequently hear from creationists of various sorts. Some of the more intelligent among the creationists believe that they are raising valid points when they complain about the lack of attention that science gives to their views about "Intelligent Design" (ID). Here is one complaint I recently received that is fairly typical of this type of argument:

While metaphysical naturalism is by definition a philosophy, I don’t see intelligent design as a philosophy at all. I see it as a scientific theory. Remember, ID doesn’t require the identity of the designer be known. It certainly something that can be explored, but I don’t have to know who built the watch I find on the beach to reasonably conclude that it was "designed" by an "intelligence." ID does NOT require that the identity of the designer(s) be known or, for that matter, supernatural. The SETI project, the field of forensics, etc. use scientific methods to look for evidences of intelligent/designed effects. Why is this same approach viewed as "heretical" when ID attempts to apply it to the origin and development of life? [1]

As you can see from the above, the creationist is concerned that scientists take the search for "Intelligent Design" in radio signals seriously in the SETI project, and scientists take the search for "Intelligent Design" in the field of forensic sciences seriously, so (the creationist asks) why can’t scientists take the search for "Intelligent Design" in our universe seriously?

The answer, which is difficult to express to the average creationist, is that science is perfectly willing to take the search for "Intelligent Design" in the universe seriously if only there were some scientific evidence and a falsifiable theory that science could look at. However, what has been advanced (so far) in the way of a scientific theory amounts to a "god of the gaps" argument. In other words, the creationists mutter, "you (scientists) can’t explain this, so isn’t it obvious that God did it?" Well, needless to say, it may be the business of religion to simply presume that "God did it" whenever scientific knowledge is lacking, but science just doesn’t work that way!

The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate to the creationists that their complaints are not being ignored on any a priori basis. The real basis for ignoring the complaints of creationists is because the available scientific evidence argues rather forcefully that the creationists are wrong, and that no "Intelligent Design" is apparent from what we can see about the current state of our universe. To demonstrate this, I’m going to focus on the question of whether what we know about the "design" of human inherited characteristics (DNA in particular) is more like what we know about the human-performed "design" of electronic components or else the "design" of electronic components where analogs of random evolutionary processes are allowed to "design" these circuits without any human intelligence in the picture.

What I will show here is that the "design" of human DNA is very much like the "design" of electronic components using analogs of random evolutionary processes and not at all like the "design" of electronic components where human intelligence performs the "design." When it comes to human DNA (the container of our individual "design" as human beings), what appears to be "Intelligent Design" in a high-level overview is, in fact, really a mess when you dig down into the actual details of the design. And that sort of mess is exactly analogous to what we see when we allow electronic circuits to "evolve themselves" rather than ask an intelligent human to perform that same design.

Of course, the mess of biological "design" has been quite obvious to scientists working in the field, so they have not mounted much resistance to Darwin’s idea of evolution through random change and natural selection. But again, the lack of knowledge (ignorance) of the typical creationist deprives them of this detailed perspective and prevents them from seeing what the scientist has long known: everything we study in depth in biology is "a mess" when the low-level "design" is studied. If there was any "Intelligent Design" behind all that mess, then the designer wasn’t anywhere as "intelligent" as the average human designer of today. In fact, within a very few years (or a few decades at the worst), human-designed molecular creatures could be produced that would clearly demonstrate "Intelligent Design." [2] Once those creatures are produced, it should be obvious that what we humans have little in common with actual "Intelligent Design" and a great deal in common with "design" through random biological processes.

Why You Can’t Exactly Copy Christy Brinkley

I suppose that everybody has their fantasy celebrity that they would most like to have a personal copy of. Mine is Christy Brinkley, but yours could be literally anybody. If it pleases you do to so, as you are reading this section, just substitute the identity of your favorite fantasy celebrity clone for the identity of mine, Christy Brinkley.

We all should understand just why cloning is necessary to get a child that looks like the adult model. Having children in the ordinary human fashion mixes the DNA of a man and a woman. [3] As was first described by the monk Gregor Mendel, the genes from the father and mother mix in some particular pattern based upon whether they are dominant or recessive genes on each side. The mixing of genes is random for each mating, which is why different children of the same parents can be very different from each other.

Frankly, given the obstacles, it’s a wonder that humans can reproduce themselves at all. But as an evolutionist, I know that we humans are "standing on the shoulders" of a large number of earlier creatures (who are all our "ancestors" in a very real sense). And one of the recent scientific theories asserts that the cell itself is really a symbiotic combination of two separate organisms that got together (somehow) billions of years ago. You will sometime hear bout "mitochondrial DNA" in humans. Well, that is the DNA that can be extracted from the cell wall of every cell in any human body. That DNA is always inherited from your mother. No male can pass on any "mitochondrial DNA" because the outer wall of the lucky male sperm cell is discarded during the process of forming the human zygote. The inner nuclear DNA from the male combines with the inner nuclear DNA from the female to produce a child that is a combination of the male and female DNA. But only the cell wall from the female egg survives, meaning that only the "mitochondrial DNA" from the mother appears in the child.

Research has demonstrated that the "mitochondrial DNA" mutates at a known rate. So, by comparing this "mitochondrial DNA" over large populations, scientists have been able to make some very good guesses as to just how long ago our nearest common ancestor happened to live (this would be the most recently living human that is in the family tree of every human alive today; but that person would not be the only human alive at the time). There are small variations (mutations) in "mitochondrial DNA" from generation to generation.

Most cloning research doesn’t pay much attention to the "mitochondrial DNA" because variation in the "mitochondrial DNA" doesn’t appear to have much of an effect on the resulting cloned animal. But of course, if we were setting our sights on an exact copy of somebody, we would be forced to pay attention to the "mitochondrial DNA" and obtain a human egg cell that has the exact same "mitochondrial DNA" as our target. If I were cloning Christy Brinkley, I would need to have a fresh human egg from Christy’s own supply (from her own ovaries), or else from her mother or sister. Otherwise, the "mitochondrial DNA" of the clone would not match Christy’s "mitochondrial DNA" and the clone would not be an exact match for Christy Brinkley.

Since mutation still occurs within the "mitochondrial DNA" of males, but males do not produce any egg cells, it is not possible to produce an exact copy of a man. The closest match you could get would be to obtain egg cells from the man’s own sister. These would not be exact matches, because the man and his sister would not have experienced the exact same "mitochondrial DNA" mutations. But they would be as close as you could get. For the same reason (independent mutation), an egg from the mother or sister of Christy Brinkley would have "mitochondrial DNA" that was close to Christy’s own, but it would not be an exact match by any stretch of the imagination

There is also some degree of natural mutation within the cells used to create the nucleus of any cloned offspring. The genetic material (DNA) within our cells doesn’t remain static all through our lives. Over time, changes can accumulate. So, once again, you just can’t obtain an exact duplicate of the clone donor. You just have to settle for an offspring that is as close to a duplicate as you can get, and this is generally good enough for all practical purposes. [4]

The role of the womb environment in human development is rather poorly understood. But it is clear that "you are what you eat." [5] And for a developing baby, it is what the mother eats that provides the molecules to make the baby grow. So, in a very literal sense, the baby is what the mom eats. And in several other respects, the mom’s overall health condition can affect the development of the baby. Also, the baby’s brain development has been shown to be influenced by sounds and other conditions to which the baby is exposed while in the womb. [6] What this all means is that, even if you had a genetically identical baby with the clone donor (something that is not obviously possible in the first place), it is still highly likely that there will be dramatic differences in the eventual child based upon how the child develops in the womb.

My point here is not really that it is impossible to clone an exact duplicate of Christy Brinkley, even though I hope that I’ve shown that to be the case. My real point is that the human reproductive system is strongly influenced by all sorts of environmental factors, and that these factors have a lot to say about how we turn out as human beings. We are far more than just what our DNA (our human "blueprint") codes for. We are not slaves to our DNA or our environment, either one. But we are clearly products of both our genes and our environment interacting with each other. [7]

Electronic Chips: Design vs. Evolution

From the beginning of the electronic revolution until almost the present, the only way that we humans obtained a designed electronic chip was for a human designer to perform the required thinking ("design") and set down all of the instructions required to produce the required chip. [8] However, in roughly the early 1990s, people began to experiment with a different way to produce an electronic chip "design." This different way was to allow the "design" to "evolve" by implementing some theme and variation of Darwin’s "natural selection" in the presence of ongoing genetic change (which is the modern formal definition of what "evolution" amounts to). Gary Taubes described the genetic mutation process of mating humans and electronic devices in the June 1998 issue of Discover magazine, pointing out both similarities and differences: [9]

The blueprint for creatures–for man, bacteria, and everything else alive–is encoded in lengthy strings of DNA. Higher animals, like us, keep this DNA in compact units called chromosomes; we have 46 of them. When sexual creatures mate, the genetic information stored in the chromosomes of the two parents is intermingled. The offspring inherit a combination of genes from both, and nature throws in a few mutations that provide an opportunity for more advantageous characteristics to come along in the next generation. Species evolve because the offspring best suited to thrive in their environment are those most likely to breed successfully and pass on their genes to the next generation. After several thousand or million years, the result will be creatures uniquely adapted for living in particular environments. In animal husbandry, the breeders do the selecting on the basis of their personal preferences. They mate those chosen, then select and mate the offspring, creating faster racehorses or beefier cattle [etc.].

Because evolution has found solutions to extremely difficult problems in the natural world …, computer scientists have tried to enlist evolution to solve difficult computational problems, using genetic algorithms. These algorithms start by encoding a potential solution to a given problem as a string of 0’s and 1’s, … . This "bit string" becomes the artificial chromosome of the solution to be evolved. The genetic algorithm generates numerous slight variations of the bit string, and then these "individuals" are tested to see which perform best under some fitness scale. The game is more like animal husbandry than evolution because the computer scientist running the genetic algorithm knows exactly what he or she wants to accomplish eventually. … The bit strings that score highest on the designated fitness test are mated in a way that is loosely inspired by how chromosomes combine in sexual reproduction, with parts of each bit string combining to produce the bit string of the offspring. Mutations are added for good luck in the next generation. These new offspring are tested and the best are mated, and on it goes. The process might be repeated for thousands of generations, until the problem is solved. Genetic algorithms have been used successfully in designing communication networks, and better turbines, and even in solving some mathematical problems that seemed otherwise intractable.

It is quite important to realize that the genetic algorithm, above, does not follow any "design rules" for the device, which is formally called a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). As subsequent analysis determined, the first device that was evolved in this fashion appears to have worked precisely by taking advantage of the errors that occur when the design rules are broken. All that the device does is to work just as well (or as poorly) as the "natural selection" of the controlling human will allow. Reverse engineering some sort of randomly evolved solution is usually not possible. This observation was posted to the USENET newsgroup comp.arch.fpga by Steve Casselman, President, Virtual Computer Corporation, in message number 12734:

I have seen two basic types of FPGA based evolvable hardware strategies (both based on the xc6200). Number one is the random method. This method produces a result that works over a small temperature range and is nearly impossible to reverse engineer. These circuits are the most life like. They die when they get too hot or too cold and nobody knows how they really work. They do things that you wouldn’t think could be done with the materials at hand kind of like saying "and you got a human out of that little strand of DNA?". [10]

I believe that the temperature range issue could be addressed by measuring the "fitness" of the device over some larger (more desirable) temperature range and then scoring the "fitness" of the device in that way. The reported experiments have apparently not been testing over wide ranges of temperature variation during their "fitness" tests.

But one thing is blazingly clear: we get a workable solution for the environment that the device is tested within, and we obtain that result using a pseudo-random process. If we wished to obtain results that would work over larger temperature ranges, we would only need to expand the testing and "fitness" measurements to include results obtained under those expanded temperature ranges. The only barrier to this sort of expansion is the probable expansion of the number of "test subjects" required to produce results in a reasonable amount of time. Predictable advances in technology readily solve this.

The Human Genome Is A Mess

One of the great advances in biotechnology occurred in 2001. It was the release of the "rough draft" of the sequencing (decoding) of the human genome. [11] While it is very early in the research process, indicating that any sort of definitive conclusion lies years into the future, it is still possible to make important observations from just these very early results. Among the early observations are:

  • Some regions of the human genome are very difficult to sequence properly because they consist of repeats that are too long for current technology. [12]
  • Large regions of the human genome consist of long repeating sequences of no obvious value (so-called "Junk DNA"). [13] While much remains to be discovered, the useful DNA (which codes for proteins) is at least 1% of the genome while the "Junk DNA" is at least 40% of the genome. [14]
  • The human genome apparently has about 200 genes that appear to be inherited from bacteria when those same genes do not exist in so-called "invertebrates." The results imply that there were several occasions where bacteria added useful genetic material into the vertebrate population of our ancestor species. [15]
  • The human genome appears to incorporate copies of genes and rearrangement of genetic protein generation abilities from our ancestor species. Thus, the complexity of the human genome is derived from adaptation of things that worked well for one or more of those ancestor species. [16]
  • The mutation rate in the human genome appears to correlate with the number of cell divisions required to produce human eggs or sperm. Thus, it appears that mutations are twice as likely to appear in men as in women. [17]
  • The human genome appears to confirm a theory that all humans alive today are descended from a group of about 10,000 humans who lived 50-100,000 years ago. [18] However, there appears to be a large variability in the human genome when different racial groups are compared. [19]
  • The human genome apparently includes at least 47 genes that resulted from an initial random copy that was retained because it acquired a useful function. [20]
  • At a large scale, the human genome is very similar to the mouse genome. The mouse genome has about 2.7 billion base pairs while the human genome has about 3.1 billion base pairs, but the bulk of those extra base pairs would appear to be "Junk DNA." The mouse appears to have about the same number of genes as a human, with well over 95% of mouse genes also appearing in the human genome, although the estimates of the exact number of genes for both species are somewhat controversial. [21]

Clearly, humans are a product of evolution. The human genome contains a clear record of what humans have inherited from our ancestor species. And as we decode the genomes of more and more related species, we will gain increasing insight into the overall evolutionary history of life on Earth. And at this point in time, it is obvious that we will never pull back from our scientific understanding that all modern life has evolved from common earlier ancestors through natural selection controlled by random chance.

Correlating Evolutionary and Geological History

Another aspect of science that bears on this discussion is the correlation of scientific facts discovered from the human genome (and other biological records) with related scientific facts from the Earth’s geological history.

In the discussion above it is mentioned that one thing the human genome seems to be telling us is "that all humans alive today are descended from a group of about 10,000 humans who lived 50-100,000 years ago." Well, that fact has been somewhat correlated with the eruption of the super-volcano Toba in Sumatra about 74,000 years ago. [22]

A better-known correlation, of course, is the idea that a large asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula about 65 million years ago, right about when the dinosaurs died off and mammals began to take over the Earth. [23]

While all such correlations are still somewhat debatable among scientists, it is hardly to be doubted that changes in the DNA codes of various species are correlated with changes in the environment of Earth. This is the essence of what the term "natural selection" means to a scientist. So, it should hardly be surprising (or controversial) that major changes in the Earth’s environment would correlate to major changes in the DNA of the surviving species.

In any case, the best scientific view of the evidence from correlating the records of both evolutionary and geological history is that humans are the current end product of a long string of random (accidental) occurrences. What humans are today depends upon major changes in the Earth’s environment over the past millennia. And it is impossible to see things like the eruptions of volcanoes and the impacts of asteroids as being part and parcel of any kind of "Intelligent Design" whatsoever.

My Conclusion: Science Denies "Intelligent" Design

I have personally helped design FPGA-based electronic circuits. And I know a lot about the differences between a human-engineered design and a design obtained by the sort of evolutionary processes described above. And I have read a lot about the human genome and its being the apparent end product of random forces, again as I’ve described above. Frankly, there is no room in my mind for any fair-minded person to claim that human beings are somehow the specially intended end product of some "Intelligent Designer." The best you might get away with given the actual scientific evidence would be the idea that, just perhaps, there is some creative intelligence operating "outside" of our space-time continuum and contributing in some way to what we see in the universe around us. But no such intelligence could in any way be aware of human existence. [24] Those who believe otherwise are relying solely upon faith and excluding all scientific evidence to the contrary.

So, in answer to my creationist critic, whose quote I used to begin this essay, I say that the very sources you cite (SETI, forensic sciences, etc.) as relying upon the ability to detect "Intelligent Design" in scientific evidence do not, and necessarily (by the nature of the current evidence) cannot result in a conclusion in favor of the intelligent design of the human genome (or any other biological creature). This is true because the state of the evidence is exactly the opposite of that which would be required to reach a conclusion in favor of "Intelligent Design." In other words, science is not in the least ignoring all of the alleged evidence in favor of "Intelligent Design," but is instead finding all such claims to be both unsupported within themselves and contradicted by the vast bulk of findings of mainstream science!

I get really weary having to fend off one creationist after another. I’m tired of arguing with them. I now turn this argument over to science to resolve. And I have little doubt as to what the eventual conclusion of science will be: there was no "Intelligent Designer" responsible for the design of the human genome.


Further Reading:

As far as I know, all book-length treatments of x:

  • x – x.
  • x – x.

Acknowledgements:

x.

I would also like to thank the many people who read earlier versions of this essay and who made constructive suggestions for improving it. What you see here was greatly affected by the many good suggestions I received.


Footnotes:

[1] Quoted without permission from a private e-mail communication dated June 5, 2002.

[2] Here, I am referring primarily to the emerging nano-technology revolution. If you are not familiar with nano-technology, what is being attempted is the design of some rather remarkable molecular machines that can do things like clean out clogged arteries inside of people. If we had discovered nano-technology machines inside of humans, that would have been the strongest possible argument in favor of "Intelligent Design." As things sit, though, we have the real mess at the lowest levels of biological "design," clearly demonstrating that this "design" occurred through random processes.

[3] See http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/Finish_sequencing_early/what_is_DNA.html for an overview of human DNA and what it does inside of our bodies.

[4] I leave it to the imagination of the reader as to just what sort of "practical purposes" I might envision for my fantasy clone of Christy Brinkley. I will also repeat here the classic joke: "A professor had the habit of using the phrase ‘for all practical purposes’ during his lectures. One day, a student questioned him as to what he meant when he used that phrase. The professor replied: ‘Suppose that I line up ten boys on one side of this room and ten girls on the other, with nothing else in the room. At a given signal, the boys and girls each move so as to halve the distance between them. This is repeated every so often. In theory, the boys and girls will never touch. But as a matter of fact, after a very few moves, they will be close enough for all practical purposes.’"

[5] Or at least, every molecule that you are comes from either your food or from breathing.

[6] One theory holds that the exposure of the child to the voice of the mother and others near to the mother actually predisposes the child to learn the language spoken in the mother’s home. Another theory holds that exposure to classical music (at least; other music may also work) predisposes the child to all manner of mathematical-related abilities, including musical abilities.

[7] In case you missed it, the point here is that part of what "designs" each of us is the random forces from our environment as we grow up, first in the womb and then after birth. At least this part of the "design" of any human has no apparent outside control (i.e., there is no apparent "strings" being pulled by some "god" that controls the design aspects of human existence that arise from environmental influences).

[8] In the earliest days of chip design, this would be a manual process, with the designer pasting tape on transparent plastic. As time went on, computers were used to perform most of the low-level design process. Still, in all cases using the non-evolutionary "design" strategy, there was a human in control at some level who was inputting "design" instructions to the computer (or other "design" machine(s).

[9] From: http://library.monterey.edu/instruction/icmodules/evaluate/disc.html as spotted June 6, 2002.

[10] From: http://www.fpga-faq.com/archives/12725.html spotted June 6, 2002.

[11] See http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/initial_sequencePR.html spotted June 7, 2002.

[12] See http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/summary_of_sequence.html spotted June 8, 2002.

[13] See http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/initial_sequencePR.html spotted June 7, 2002.

[14] See http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/summary_of_sequence.html spotted June 8, 2002.

[15] See http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/initial_sequencePR.html spotted June 7, 2002, as well as http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/vignettes.html#v9 spotted June 8, 2002. Also of interest is http://www.msnbc.com/news/590130.asp spotted June 8, 2002.

[16] See http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/vignettes.html#v3 spotted June 8, 2002.

[17] See http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/initial_sequencePR.html spotted June 7, 2002, as well as http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/vignettes.html#v8 spotted June 8, 2002.

[18] See http://www.nhgri.nih.gov/NEWS/snp_count.html spotted June 8, 2002.

[19] See http://www.msnbc.com/news/599692.asp spotted June 8, 2002.

[20] See http://portfolio.cmaisonneuve.qc.ca/1691/genome/human.htm spotted June 8, 2002.

[21] See http://www.msnbc.com/news/748531.asp spotted June 8, 2002, as well as http://www.msnbc.com/news/748531.asp spotted June 8, 2002. Also see http://www.msnbc.com/news/759540.asp spotted June 8, 2002.

[22] See http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/supervolcanoes_script.shtml spotted June 8, 2002.

[23] See http://rainbow.ldeo.columbia.edu/courses/v1001/23.html spotted June 8, 2002.

[24] See https://infidels.org/library/modern/bill_schultz/crsc.html for more on the idea that some sort of creative intelligence of this sort might possibly exist.


The text of this essay is Copyright © 2002, by William A. Schultz. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission of the author.