A challenge to intelligent design

Proponents of creationism or intelligent design generally want to demonstrate that their beliefs are not in conflict with scientific evidence, either by incorporating some interpretation of the evidence into their worldview or arguing that the evidence is misleading or otherwise doesn’t exist.

Genetics offers immensely significant evidence that evolution occurs. For example, it can be shown that there are strong relationships between the genetic code of all living things, implying common ancestry. If living things were not evolved but created, there is no reason that there must be so much common genetic coding. The typical creationist response I’ve heard to this argument is that God, like any engineer, frequently reuses designs because they are the best for the job at hand. That all automobiles have similar components, the argument continues, is not evidence that they are all related.

Let’s take the creationist argument at face value and agree that there is no reason why God wouldn’t reuse optimal genetic coding. If that is indeed the case, then we can make a prediction: if life on other planets is found, it will use the same genetic coding that is common among creatures on Earth. I don’t mean that alien life would have eyes, legs, symmetry, or other features similar to Earth creatures (since such things would be expected), but that the actual coding of alien DNA will be similar to the coding of Earth-creature DNA in the same way that Earth-creature DNA is similar to the DNA of other creatures on this planet.

But what if another planet is found on which life follows a genetic code that is completely distinct from that found on Earth? It seems to me that this leaves creationists with two options: Either the DNA patterns used on Earth are not optimal (or not exclusively optimal), in which case there is no longer any reason why God couldn’t have used the alien patterns on Earth, or God created life on another planet using sub-optimal DNA, which is not something we would expect from a perfect creator.

If you’re a proponent of creationism or intelligent design, are you willing to make this prediction? Will you agree that if life is found on another planet that has unique DNA it will be evidence that your view of origins is incorrect? Or is there some other option I have overlooked? I’ll be very interested to hear what you have to say.

Posted on May 18, 2010 at 9:44 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: Evolution

15 Responses

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  1. Written by Moses
    on May 18, 2010 at 9:48 am
    Reply · Permalink

    You can’t conclude anything from something like this because you can’t test God in this way. God is not a subject for scientific testing. If you did find “alien” dna that was different that human dna all it would prove is that God chose to do things differently somewhere else for some purpose that we do not know. Creationism is immune to disproof because it is true.

  2. Written by Elisa
    on May 18, 2010 at 9:50 am
    Reply · Permalink

    There is no life on other planets. God created life on Earth only. Disagree? Then show me life on another planet!

  3. Written by MyroPower
    on May 18, 2010 at 10:05 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Intelligent Design already makes many predictions, as opposed to what you imply.

    1. Forms containing large amounts of novel information will appear in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors. This happens in the Cambrian explosion where copious life forms suddenly appear as if instantaneously created.

    2. Convergence will occur routinely. That is, genes and other functional parts will be re-used in different and unrelated organisms. We already know of long strings of genes beyond the potential of chance that exist in completely unrelated (to Darwinists) creatures.

    3. Much so-called “junk DNA” will turn out to perform valuable functions. This has already been proven. “Junk” DNA regulates gene processes.

    4. Perhaps life will be found where the habitat is hostile to the emergence of life, or is the environment is generally sterile to biological life. This is true in deep-sea vents where evolution is impossible due to extreme harshness of conditions.

    5. that we will find specified complexity in biology. This is verified by all the cases of irreducible complexity revealed in genetic code.

    6. function for biological structures. Scientists have never found a biological structure that has no function.

  4. Written by Joakim Rosqvist
    on May 18, 2010 at 2:08 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Conditions on another planet are likely to be different from here, which means that the optimal DNA is also different there, so finding different DNA on another planet will not disprove ID.

  5. Written by Alan
    on May 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Why do you think alien life would even use DNA? That is unless, you’re simply using it to refer to generic genetic information. I’m sure that there are other molecules that would function as well or better than DNA.

    Your argument would be even more persuasive if an example of life was found that didn’t rely on any of the genetic framework used by earthly life.

  6. Written by ed42
    on May 18, 2010 at 6:21 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Has religion ever PROVEN science wrong?

  7. Written by Justfinethanks
    on May 18, 2010 at 7:05 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    “Proponents of creationism or intelligent design generally want to demonstrate that their beliefs are not in conflict with scientific evidence”

    The problem is, of course, that Intelligent Design as it is defined by it’s proponents (certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause) can’t actually conflict with any available scientific evidence, and is therefore not a testable theory.

    The typical way offered that one can test ID is by showing how complex specificied information could originate in an object naturally. But this is clearly not the case.

    To take an example of an object that is uncontroversailly designed by an intelligence, suppose someone challenged you that a book that you held your hands was undesigned. Would showing how the information could get there without an intelligence prove that it wasn’t the product of an intelligence?

    Suppose, someone tried to demonstrate just that by showing that a perfectly unintelligent printing press placed in the information on the book. Would that falsify the ID claim in this case?

    Clearly not, as you could assert that the letters in the printing press was merely the means by which the intelligent agent transferred the information, quite reasonably. The person could try again by showing an unintelligent cause a step back in casual chain, such an unintelligent computer that placed the letters in the computer or an unintelligent robot that assembled the printing press, but you could simply assert that the intelligent agent acted even earlier in the casual chain, and so forth. In other words, your claim that the book was designed can’t be proved wrong, it can only be proved right.

    The same goes for uncontroversially undesigned objects, like a stone picked off the beach. You could assert it was created by natural geological forces if I asserted it was the product of design, but I could simply say that the intelligent agent employed geological forces to design the stone. You explained the natural origin of these geological forces, I could reasonably claim that the intelligent agent acted prior the created of the Earth to design the stone (after all, it just LOOKS likes it is loaded with CSI to me). And so on and so forth until you are arguing about causes at the beginning of time.

    What that means is that when I point to something, anything it all, and call it the product of design, I am making a metaphysical claim, not a scientifically testable claim. And therefore ID should not be considered a serious competitor to a genuinely scientific theory.

    So no, if were to attempt to treat ID as a scientific theory rather than the metaphysical claim that it actually is, the discovery of aliens with non-DNA code would not invalidate ID. After all, perhaps that different genetic code is optimal for that particular planet, while DNA is optimal for this one. Also, the denial of all MyroPower’s “predictions” wouldn’t meaningfully invalidate the ID claim. But only because nothing at all, even in principle, possibly can.

  8. Written by Chris
    on May 18, 2010 at 8:47 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    As much as I hate creationists, I can see them arguing that it would be different because it is optimal for their planet but not ours. So on Earth, our genetic code is similar because it is optimal for life on Earth. However, on this other planet, it is different because it is optimal for life on their planet.

    This whole argument falls into the same category as the one where someone asks “what if we were just created ten seconds ago and our memories were implanted to make it seem like we lived long full lives”. Arguments like this can never be answered and are non-productive. They don’t contribute anything or give any answers to solve real world problems.

  9. Written by ideclare
    on May 19, 2010 at 8:41 am
    Reply · Permalink

    “As much as I hate creationists, I can see them arguing that it would be different because it is optimal for their planet but not ours.”

    But there is no need for God to optimize life for different planets since God is the one creating planets in the first place. I believe the “privileged planet” argument for intelligent design states that Earth is designed specifically to allow life and that only a narrow range of conditions will support life. From this I would conclude that, if ID is correct, any planet that supports life will be similar to Earth. If not, then Earth is not as privileged as some would think.

  10. Written by Dietrich
    on May 19, 2010 at 9:53 am
    Reply · Permalink

    You can present a similar challenge here on earth. There are plenty of examples of animals that have identical functionality generated by different DNA. Instead of reusing perfectly good genetic sequences between widely separated species (like any decent engineer), god decided to make it look like things evolved. Very mysterious.

    I’m sure the ID folks can provide an explanation for any question you can dream up. When you invoke the supernatural and don’t require a testable hypothesis, it’s very easy to make things up as you go along. It’s just not science.

  11. Written by Justfinethanks
    on May 19, 2010 at 10:43 am
    Reply · Permalink

    “But there is no need for God to optimize life for different planets since God is the one creating planets in the first place.”

    IDiot
    Whoa, who said anything about God? Talking about what God “wouldn’t need to do” is a theological argument, and I’m making a scientific one. All “bad design” arguments are not a challenge to ID. After all, the Ford Pinto was designed, right?
    /IDiot

    But seriously, as Dietrich points out, the design hypothesis is compatible with all possible states of affairs, even the “different genetic code on other planets” situation. And it’s therefore not meaningful science.

  12. Written by Monimonika
    on May 19, 2010 at 5:38 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I’m going to reply to parts of MyroPower’s list of supposed Intelligent Design predictions. I’ll either come back to reply to the ones I skipped (1 and 3) or will let others take stabs at them:

    2. Convergence will occur routinely. That is, genes and other functional parts will be re-used in different and unrelated organisms. We already know of long strings of genes beyond the potential of chance that exist in completely unrelated (to Darwinists) creatures.

    What, like how birds and bats develop wings for flight? Or how sharks and dolphins develop fins for swimming? Are you sure you want to claim that these pairings use the same genes to develop wings/fins? Or are you thinking of something else? Please clarify with specific examples.

    4. Perhaps life will be found where the habitat is hostile to the emergence of life, or is the environment is generally sterile to biological life. This is true in deep-sea vents where evolution is impossible due to extreme harshness of conditions.

    Hostile to emergence of life? You obviously never realized that one of the major theories for the origin of life is that life originated due to hydrothermal vents (deep sea vents):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrothermal_vent#Hydrothermal_origin_of_life

    The bigger mistake you make, though, is stating that deep sea vents are sterile to biological life. You couldn’t be further from the truth. There are plenty of life at deep sea vents. Thanks to bacteria that use chemosythesis to convert sulfur compounds (such as the toxic hydrogen sulfide) into organic materials, the basis for a thriving ecosystem is provided where there is little to no energy input from the sun.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrothermal_vent#Biological_communities

    5. that we will find specified complexity in biology. This is verified by all the cases of irreducible complexity revealed in genetic code.

    You mean something like our immune system? That was one of the examples of irreducible complexity given by the ID defense at the Kitzmiller trial. The defense sure put up a very convincing argument with that one.

    Oh, wait, no they didn’t. It was easily shown by the prosecution that the “irreducible” parts of the immune system were readily reducible to even smaller parts that still functioned, and that there existed organisms even today with such “reduced” immune systems that still functioned perfectly.

    And no, screeching that those even smaller parts of the immune system are therefore the REAL irreducibly complex parts is just proof that specified/irreducible complexity is a description completely dependent on IGNORANCE of possible simpler forms.

    Humans used to be ignorant of how lighting worked, so they said the god Thor must be creating it. IDiots are ignorant of how the immune system came to be, so they invoked God, I mean, an Intelligent Designer to have swooped down from… somewhere and… somehow put in place our immune system some nebulous time ago in our ancestor. Yeah, you can see the research opportunities in that “theory”, but that would require looking into WHO the designer is, and the IDiots can’t allow that.

    6. function for biological structures. Scientists have never found a biological structure that has no function.

    Appendicitis. The only thing the appendix offers to us humans. It doesn’t matter if the appendix is useful in some other animals. The fact remains that the human appendix is less than useless and if we had an easy non-surgical way to either remove or prevent the growth of the appendix, we’d be all over it.

    This would count as a point against ID if there wasn’t that ABSOLUTELY STUPID idea that God designed inconvenient things (read: evil) either for a) his “mysterious ways” of carrying out his “Divine Plan” (that for some reason is supposed to favor human beings instead of, say, tapeworms) or b) highlighting the “good” stuff in the world by contrasting it with suffering. Ugh!!

  13. Written by Monimonika
    on May 19, 2010 at 6:34 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    For MyroPower’s ID prediction #3:

    3. Much so-called “junk DNA” will turn out to perform valuable functions. This has already been proven. “Junk” DNA regulates gene processes.

    Link to Pharyngula blog on this very topic:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/junk_dna_is_still_junk.php

    (Yeah, I’m lazy.)

  14. Written by Zach
    on May 20, 2010 at 9:57 am
    Reply · Permalink

    About the appendix issue, this is about 3 years old but interesting: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21153898/

    Not that this explains in any way things like vestigial DNA (if that’s a term) or other potential vestigial organs.

  15. Written by Monimonika
    on May 21, 2010 at 6:49 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Zach,

    Thanks for reminding me of that theory. Although I have not seen that the theory has been verified yet, it still seems to be a good one. In my (still incomplete) Google University search for studies that tested this theory, I came across many articles by people (of the quacky-smelling kind) that lauded this theory as being a reason to avoid surgical removal of the appendix as much as possible.

    I can see this being a good argument if the recommendation was for people who live in isolated (low population) areas and are at risk for cholera or dysentery. But these quacks are recommending this even for people who live in places where cholera/dysentery is rare and there is a dense population from where the people can easily replenish the gastric(sp?) bacteria they lost. The risk of appendicitis still comes out to be a much higher concern.

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