C4ID's Inaugural Lecture 2011: 'Is there a Signature in the Cell?'
The Centre for Intelligent Design UK (C4ID) held its Inaugural Lecture in the Royal Horseguards Hotel in Whitehall, London, on Thursday November 17th, 2011.  The lecture was given by Dr Stephen Meyer, Director of the Centre for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, Seattle, USA.  The event, which included supper, was hosted by Lord Mackay of Clashfern.  The Banqueting Hall of the hotel provided an impressive setting for the occasion.

The audience of some 90 invited guests included leading scientists, philosophers, Parliamentarians, educationalists, theologians, lawyers, and representatives of the media and business sectors.  Given the controversial nature of the subject and the desire not to inhibit discussion, C4ID requested that the identity of the participants remain protected.  The attendance of so many significant figures signals real interest in the topic, but, as Lord Mackay stressed in his introduction, their presence was not taken as an indication of support for the position of Intelligent Design (ID).

 

It is also important to say that the event was organised and funded entirely by the Centre for Intelligent Design.  Its members and supporters in the UK finance its activities and no funds come from the United States.

The Origin of First Life

The content of Dr Meyer’s lecture was fascinating and his book, ‘Signature in the Cell’ is truly groundbreaking.  In his lecture, he outlined his initial interest in the problem of the emergence of first life and the absence, then and now, of any credible explanation for it.  He described how this had led him to Cambridge to undertake a PhD in the philosophy of science and to his discovery of the significance of the information content of DNA.  Using the method of inference to the best explanation, the very approach adopted by Charles Darwin in his elaboration of evolution by variation and natural selection, he described the scientific legitimacy of concluding that the information carried by DNA is best explained by intelligent mind.

Meyer stressed that this inference is not a stab in the dark, but the application of the only known source of functional or specified information to the problem.  He argued that science has to be open to all of reality and that mind is a key aspect of that reality.  To limit explanations simply to material causes does not reflect our everyday experience of the important role of mind.

Natural Selection as the Universal Fixer

Meyer elaborated on the other suggestions for the emergence of first life and the generation of biological information, showing that they are simply unequal to the task.  These include chance and necessity contingent on natural law.  While some features of life are explicable in these terms, the origin of the specified information in DNA, which is neither random nor repetitive, cannot be explained by these approaches.

Meyer pointed out that recourse to random mutation and natural selection as an explanation of the origin of life is self-defeating.  Until self-replicating life emerges, there is simply nothing to mutate or to select from.  Natural selection should not be invoked to explain its own emergence.  Meyer’s arguments in this area, drawing on information science and probability theory as well as molecular chemistry, are powerful and persuasive.

What are the Implications?

The question and answer session following the lecture explored issues such as the overlap of philosophy and science, the current definition of science, the constraints of methodological naturalism and the interface of ID with religious ideas.  Meyer was at pains to explain that ID is not a position derived from religious assertion or from young earth creationism.

Meyer did not dwell at length on the scientific and philosophical implications of intelligent design.  But the unspoken was obvious.  If life is as it is because it is programmed to be so - and the evidence for that is compelling – profound questions are raised about the universal assumptions of neo-Darwinism.

The tenor of the lecture was clear: let the evidence speak and then explore the implications.

The Nature of Scientific Theories

In summing up the evening, Lord Mackay drew attention to the clarity of the proposition that the information in DNA is a real entity worthy of scientific investigation. He recognised that the lecture was a strong endorsement of the view that, as the only examples we know of sequences that work are produced by intelligent design, it was very reasonable to conclude that this was true of the DNA sequence that exists in living cells.

He also described how, in his lifetime, accepted scientific theories have been modified and extended in the light of fresh evidence, citing the big bang, the quantum physics revolution, and the most recent and intriguing work on the speed of light.  Science, he observed, is never settled.

Intelligent Design is certainly Science

No-one who was present at the lecture could be in any doubt that this is a serious scientific debate.  The proposition that ID is American creationism or a defective ‘God of the gaps’ theology is just unsustainable.  In fact, it is the very opposite.  On several occasions Meyer pointed out that ID is dealing with what we do know about the information in and the structure of the cell.  It is not about what we don’t know.

In fact the irony of this is that the current attempts to explain the origin of first life could be described as ‘natural selection or evolution of the gaps’ as if they are universal fixers when the explanatory power of the theory fails.  Even defining science to exclude intelligence or mind as a cause doesn’t help you deal with the actual evidence.

Whether you agree with Stephen Meyer or not, you would have to conclude that he was dealing competently and scientifically with the current problem of the origin of first life.

Support from an unexpected quarter

Dr Meyer played a most telling clip from the film ‘Expelled’ – now available in the UK on DVD.  In it Richard Dawkins, hardly a proponent of ID but rather of a naturalistic account of life’s origin, acknowledges, perhaps in an unguarded moment, that there is some evidence in the living cell of a ‘signature’ (his word) of some higher intelligence.  That’s the kind of observation you can’t treat lightly.

C4ID hopes to make Meyer’s lecture widely available in the near future on You Tube so you can judge its content for yourself.

An idea whose time has come

I am greatly encouraged by the increasing visibility and progress of the debate about ID in the UK.  This event was another milestone.  My clear impression is that thoughtful people are getting tired of the yaboo opposition to ID from those who misrepresent it and demonise its proponents.  Why don’t the opponents of ID stop this childish nonsense and engage in a real debate about the evidence?  They could even turn up at the lectures!  Certainly, we’re committed to maintaining the on-going debate.

Following the lecture, Premier Radio carried an intriguing discussion about ‘Signature in the Cell’ between Stephen Meyer and Prof Keith Fox, Professor of Biochemistry at Southampton and chair of Christians in Science.  Fox opposes the ID position and this interview, which can be accessed on Premier’s website under its ‘Unbelievable’ series, is certainly worth listening to.  The science of ID and its implications are explored extensively.  You’ll notice that Meyer is no push-over.

C4ID will continue to run a range of events across the UK.  Details will be published on this web site.


Dr Alastair Noble
Director
Centre for Intelligent Design UK
November 26th, 2011
Web www.c4id.org.uk

Notes

‘Signature in the cell – DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design’’ by Stephen Meyer is published by HarperOne (2009), ISBN978-0-06-147278-7.

The Premier Radio interview can be found at:

http://www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid={D5D3E5D1-697C-4348-87E6-7B6EED18E0AC}