Simple but Elegant

It's a creature so tiny that if you didn't know what you were looking for, you'd never see it. I'm talking about Caenorhabditis elegans, otherwise known as C. elegans, a species of worm. C. elegans lives in the soil, where it eats bacteria. Recently, biologists published the complete genetic sequence for C. elegans. And that library of information tells a remarkable tale—a tale of intelligent design. This worm may be tiny, but it requires a vast library to describe all of its genetic information: 97 million base pairs of DNA, to be exact. If this genetic information were printed out, 2,000 letters to a page, it would fill a series of volumes larger than the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Scientists who believe in "intelligent design" argue that the genetic information encoded in DNA cannot be explained by natural laws or chance processes. Instead, the information points to an intelligent designer. To reach this conclusion, they use what mathematician William Dembski calls an "explanatory filter." The explanatory filter is a simple but elegant idea. When we confront events in the world, we typically try to explain them first by natural laws or regularities. That's the first step in the filter. Now, natural laws are utterly regular. If you let go of a pencil, it will fall to the ground every time. But the very regularity of natural laws makes them unlikely generators of the genetic information in DNA. Why? Because that information is highly irregular. The sequences in DNA can't be predicted by any regular rule or law. Instead, they have to be painstakingly mapped, genetic letter by genetic letter. Well, how about chance? That's the second step in the explanatory filter. Might some chance process have generated the irregular sequence of DNA? After all, if it's an irregular sequence that we want, couldn't we have an irregular process to cause it? This brings up to the third and last step in the filter, the question of design. You see, a chance process might generate an irregular pattern—but not the highly specified sequence of 97 million base pairs necessary for C. elegans. A simple experiment illustrates what I mean. If you have a Scrabble game, put the pieces in a bag and shake then up, and then lay them out in a line. That's a chance process, and it is highly unlikely you will ever generate even a simple English sentence that way, much less the Encyclopedia Britannica. Why? Because sentences, like DNA sequences, are not merely irregular and improbable. They are also specified. To convey meaning, a sequence of letters cannot fall into just any pattern. Only a handful of all the possible sequences of Scrabble pieces specify meaningful sentences. And in our experience, those meaningful sequences are created by minds—by intelligent designers. Likewise, only a few of all the possible DNA sequences in the universe will yield the worm C. elegans. Rigorous logic would then tell us that C. elegans was also designed. Unfortunately, the debate over the origin of living things isn't simply a matter of logic and evidence. Many people don't want there to be a Designer. But Christians ought to rejoice and talk about the new breakthroughs that support the evidence for intelligent design. It holds out great hope for a renovation in science, and provides yet more evidence for faith in a creative God.


Chuck Colson


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