Assembly Summary: Unlocking the Mystery of Life

Author: Juliette McNair | Student, Living Education 2021

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 16 seconds.

Modern science claims matter and energy are the two fundamental elements of life. “But,” Mr. Richard Ames said, “there’s another factor: intelligence.” Mr. Ames played the documentary Unlocking the Mystery of Life for his Assembly. In this documentary, scientists argue that intelligent design is undeniably present in nature. Mr. Ames asked the students to consider this question as they watched the video: “Why should intelligence be a foundational element of science?”

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

– Charles Darwin

Irreducible Complexity

Irreducible complexity is the idea that a biological system could not have evolved through tiny, incremental developments because the system itself cannot be any less complex to operate. This concept is clearly seen in the functioning of the tail-like organ called a flagellum on a bacterium. Flagella can spin at speeds up to 100,000 rpm. Just like an outboard motor on a boat, these natural propellors have gears, a stator, rotor, u-joint, driveshaft, and propellor—in total, they have 40 different parts. Evolution must explain how this system can be built gradually when the system only works when each part is functioning. The biologist Jonathan Wells explains that natural selection “selects only for a functional advantage… so if you had a bacterium with a tail that didn’t function as a flagellum, chances are natural selection would eliminate it. The only way you can select for a flagellum is if you have… all the pieces of the motor in place to begin with.”

Life Requires Instructions

The video introduced Dr. Dean Kenyon, who wanted to answer the question: “How did life begin in the first place?” He theorized that amino acids assembled themselves into proteins millions of years ago through chemical attraction. A student challenged him on how amino acids could assemble without instructions from DNA. DNA regulates the sequences and shapes amino acids need to form to create proteins. Dr. Kenyon found he couldn’t explain how amino acids had formed proteins without any instruction from pre-existing DNA. Furthermore, natural selection, by definition, needs existing organisms to operate. The issue of the origin of DNA is a major challenge to evolutionary theory.

“Science ought to be a search for the truth about the world… when we come to a puzzle in nature, we ought to bring to that puzzle every possible cause that might explain it. One of the problems I have with evolutionary theory is that it artificially rules out a kind of cause even before the evidence has a chance to speak, and the cause that’s ruled out is intelligence.”

– Paul Nelson

Design Reasoning

When archeologists discover ruins or when tourists see Mount Rushmore, they assume an intelligent mind was responsible. William Dembski wondered why. He established two reliable criteria for determining whether something was designed or not: small probability and specification. It’s highly improbable erosion carved faces into Mount Rushmore. The specific patterns of the faces are also recognizable. This speaks to design. From computer software to words scratched in the sand on the beach, people take intelligent design for granted all the time—without needing to be present when it was done. Scientists even monitor outer space for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. If a highly improbable, specifically patterned signal was intercepted from space, researchers would declare extraterrestrial intelligence existed. Yet, the microscopic world of a single cell exhibits these same signs of intelligence and the possibility of intelligent design is rejected out of hand.

Mr. Ames stopped the documentary when the assembly time ran out. He encouraged the students to finish the documentary in their own time. The visible world may consist of matter and energy, but every component—from Mount Rushmore to bacteria flagella to the genetic code in living cells—reflects intelligence in its functioning and origin. The documentary Mr. Ames played proved that intelligence is as elemental to science as DNA is to the natural world.

This post is part of our new series of student-written content for LivingEd-Charlotte. These summaries cover topics originally presented by our faculty and guest speakers in our weekly Forum and Assembly. For more Assembly-related content check out our Second Thoughts posts.