Demands of Design

Editor's Note: This is chapter 3 of a book titled Maker of the Morning
by Al Cornell,
RR 1, Box 346B, Muscoda, WI 53573.
He is a wildlife technician with the DNR.

In 1802, William Paley wrote a lengthy book entitled Natural Theology. The perception that design in nature proved a Creator existed was common in his time. That conclusion has been clouded in intervening years. After quoting a popular statement from Paley, I want to present some evidence of relationship between design and a designer. Paley wrote:

In every nature and every portion of nature which we can descry we find attention bestowed upon even the minutest parts. The hinges in the wings of an earwig, and the joints of its antennae, are as highly wrought, as if the Creator had nothing else to finish. We see no signs of diminution of care by multiplicity of objects, or of distraction of thought by variety. We have no reason to fear, therefore, our being forgotten, or overlooked, or neglected.

I noticed this passage quoted by two scientists. Both are paleontologists--that is study fossil bones. Also, both are sort of philosophers of humanism. Loren Eiseley died in 1977, and Steven Jay Gould is contemporary.

In context, both claim, to use the words of Eiseley, "...the world was genuinely sane under a beneficent Deity. Then came Darwin." According to Eiseley, ancient humans, putting skins, bone needles, and a stick for killing rabbits into a child's burial chamber, perceived nature in the same way Paley viewed it.

Because of the intervening clouding of Paley's view, some moderns tell us we cannot know there is a God. On the other hand, many still interpret order in the universe as strong evidence for the existence of God. Famous scientist Wernher von Braun wrote, "One cannot be exposed to the law and order of the universe without concluding that there must be a design and purpose behind it all." Astronomer Frederick H. Giles, Jr. wrote, " certainly cannot be denied that the fact of universal design delivers a telling thrust in the direction of God's existence." For thousands of years nature's story proclaimed the existence of God, and it still does.

We learn that design demands a designer from hundreds of natural things that occur around us. I was impressed with fossil leaves that I saw in a museum. The forms of those leaves were remarkably preserved in limestone. There could be no doubt about the origin of the design of those fossils. Leaves had provided the design. Yet, what is left of the original leaves? A chemist might examine the fossils and not find any protein, lipids, or other constituents of living leaves. Only the design remains. But that design, simple as it is, forces us to a logical conclusion about its origin. No conclusion of chance origin would satisfy our minds. The fossil leaves demand leaves to explain their existence.

Many spiders spin webs. That network of gossamer strands is designed to capture insect prey for food. When we find an abandoned web, it stands as evidence of the complexity of the spider. The web reveals that something with far more complexity than itself was present. We can draw conclusions about an animal with a complex organ for web making and a complex behavior to create the web. Through careful study, we could reach a conclusion concerning the kind of spider that built a particular web.

Chipped rocks compose one very interesting artifact of past human cultures. Henry David Thoreau referred to arrowheads as "mindprints." He wrote, "They are not fossil bones, but, as it were, fossil thoughts forever reminding me of the mind that shaped them. I am on the trail of mind."

In a drawer in front of me I have 22 spear and arrow points or pieces of points that I have picked up. In addition, I have found a few crudely chipped rocks. Some of them were flakes left by a stone-tool maker. Others may have been shaped for a purpose that I could not detect. An expert anthropologists could have told. Yet, the 22 that I know were fashioned tools are simple chipped rocks. But can we be sure they were fashioned? Natural forces are chipping billions of rocks. Could some of those end up identical to purposely knapped points? The expert would tell you that you can always see too much design in a well-formed point to confuse it with a stone chipped by chance.

Since such simple designs demand a particular origin, what conclusions can we draw from more complex designs? What about trees and leaves, spiders, and the human brain? Is there some force in nature that can overcome the fact that very simple design demonstrates a particular mode of origin and produce tremendous complexity by pure natural processes?

First, let's examine the limits of chance. There is an old analogy that lends itself to some examination on this point. The claim was made that a million monkeys poking at a million typewriters could eventually produce a Shakespearean play.

Let's incorporate a sieve, to simulate natural selection, right from the start. Every time one of our monkeys gets a complete sentence right it will be pulled out and added to the growing text. To make it easy for our diligent simians, let's provide them with simple typewriters. These machines have 26 capital-letter keys, three punctuation keys, and a space key, for a total of 30 keys. Also suppose that we lucked on to some diligent monkeys. They randomly hit 10 keys per second, 24 hours per day.

Let's warm the monkeys up on the short phrase: TO BE OR NOT TO BE. With the spaces and the period, that gives us a mere 19 specified key strokes. How fast can the monkeys do it? In the first second, they punch 10 million keys. So we get a T to start the phrase 333,333 times in that second. Of all the sequences started in the first second, 11,111 will be TO. Only twelve four-letter sequences that started in the first second will be TO B. In a given hour, they will provide an average of 49 sequences six specified key strokes long. Our monkeys will get 10 correct spaces, TO BE OR N, once every 1.87 years. Multiply that by 30 twice and you will find that it takes an average of 1685 years to get to TO BE OR NOT. Amazingly, our million monkeys would produce our specified 19 space phrase an average of once every 37 trillion years. So much for sorting out complete sentences. In this age, it is not difficult for a person to work a simple computation to demonstrate that chance has trouble with a rather simple assignment.

When we look to the origin and development of life, chance would be further out of luck in an ocean of molecules than our typewriter monkeys were at producing a play. The specified, necessary sequence of DNA for many of life's processes are overwhelmingly out of the reach of chance and natural selection. A small virus with 4000 subunits of RNA is obligated to rely on the extremely complex cellular machinery of a higher form of life to reproduce itself.

No wonder then, that some who have insisted that God is not in charge have attempted a more dramatic explanation than chance assisted by natural selection. Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors wrote, "...DNA--a molecular engineer of formidable, even awesome talents." Later, they refer to the pleasure of sex as, "one of the currencies in which the DNA pays off the animal that carries it around and nurtures it." Again, "This is just the DNA creatively demonstrating its control in the most overt and clear-cut way." Now take this thought a step further with Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, "They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rational for our existence ... (we) are their survival machines."

The attempt to explain the complexity of life without a Creator, leads to such absurd imagination. Obviously, in spite of its beauty and complexity, DNA does not have a separate existence or the power to create, pay, or control. It makes nearly as much sense to say that the pancreas is in charge and just carries the rest of us as its survival machine.

In 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of the DNA molecule. The concept of inheritance being through DNA, instead of proteins, was just being accepted. The form of the DNA molecule is so fascinating that Horace Judson commented, "The structure of DNA is flawlessly beautiful." But it was a Spanish painter who perceived what lies behind that design. Salvador Dali said, "And now the announcement of Watson and Crick about DNA. This for me is the real proof of the existence of God."

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, Nov/Dec 1996

In one day, Americans produce 33 million pounds of aluminum, enough to make 132 square miles of aluminum foil. And every day, Americans recycle 78 million aluminum cans. That's enough to make 18 Boeing 747 jetliners.