God is a Biological Engineer: and He's Brilliant!

God is a Biological Engineer: and He's Brilliant!

As science progresses it uncovers layers upon layers of exquisite design, revealing God’s genius even as it prods anti-God, anti-design proponents to increasingly desperate attempts to claim otherwise. With near frantic shrills they insist, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose” (Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker) and “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved” (Francis Crick in What Mad Pursuit). In other words, “We know it looks designed, but no matter how overwhelming the evidence for design gets, just keep telling yourself that’s it’s not. We can’t allow any talk of design, or the implied Designer!”  
They then trot out tired “evidences” to “prove” how poorly nature has done at designing biological structures. This functions as a not too subtle slap in God’s face as they effectively say, “A good designer wouldn’t have done it this way.” For example, Nathan Lents (Professor of Biology at John Jay College in New York), in a spectacular display of hubris and ignorance, has claimed that the human wrist is composed of bones that are “like a pile of rocks – which is how useful they are to anyone.” Stuart Burgess (a mechanical engineer who has studied human joints to design human-mimicking robotic joints, among other things) takes Lents to task, calling his claims “catastrophically wrong” and damaging “to true scientific knowledge.” Burgess explains how each of the eight bones in the wrist has a “precise function.” He describes its “precision engineering” and calls the wrist “majestic” and “the gold standard of design.”[1]
In fact, engineers are increasingly turning to biology and biological systems for insights into how to advance engineering. The practice is called biomimicry (using designs and end-directed processes in creation to inspire innovation and new technologies) and has resulted in numerous innovations: wind turbine blades inspired by humpback whale flippers, reduced-drag swimsuits inspired by shark skin, bullet trains modeled after the kingfisher bird, particulate repellant paint inspired by lotus flowers, and on and on and on.
Even more, engineers are increasingly coming to the aid of biologists to help them appreciate the top-down design apparent in biological systems. Instead of assuming randomness and a Rube-Goldberg-like bottom-up, ad hoc assembly, engineers are helping biologist see the exquisite top-down, goal-directed design in biological systems. To see this partnership in action, check out Your Designed Body by Steve Laufmann (a computer scientist and consultant in the design of enterprise-class systems) and Howard Glicksman (a medical doctor with over 40 years of experience). In it they masterfully detail the exquisite and precise design displayed throughout the numerous biological systems in your body. Writing about the human wrist (and countering Nathan Lents), they say,
Notably (and amazingly, from the engineering point of view), the wrist contains a double hinge, in which two different joints share the same axis of rotation, allowing a wide range of motion, yet with incredible strength. The surprising part? Those ‘useless’ bones form one of the hinges (428-409).
In any serious evaluation, the many structures and capabilities of the human wrist, including the many ways its joints are hinged to move in three dimensions, provide a lesson in the highest possible design prowess (546, ftn. 18).
Now a new breakthrough in understanding biological design and genetic programming is rattling the already-shaken foundations of Darwinian evolution, threatening to finish them off once and for all. This insight, variously termed Engineered Adaptability or Continuous Environmental Tracking, takes aim at Darwinian evolution’s beating heart: natural selection. Before we appreciate the beauty and explanatory power of Continuous Environmental Tracking (CET), though, we first need to appreciate how essential natural selection is to Darwinian Evolution.
The full title of Darwin’s seminal work, The Origin of Species, displays natural selection’s importance to his theory: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races[2] in the Struggle for Life. Darwin looked at breeders (of roses, pigeons, dogs, etc.) and theorized that, given enough time, nature could produce the same variation in species. In fact, in Origin he flatly states,  
I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection.
He added, “I can see no limit to the amount of change… which may be effected in the long course of time by nature’s power of selection.”
The error in Darwin’s thinking might not be readily apparent, but what he did was subtly give nature an ability that it doesn’t have. Breeders have intelligence and agency. Nature, while full of living things, is not living and has no brain, no intelligence, no volition, and no agency. Strictly speaking, nature doesn’t select. But that is precisely what Darwin suggested as he removed agency from the organism (and from the Designer who programmed it into His organisms) and transferred it to “nature.” By so doing, Darwin rendered God irrelevant. “Nature” could now do what before had been credited to God and His intelligently designed organisms.
An important point of clarification is in order here: we are not claiming that God acts like a breeder, selecting the favored traits in organisms that He prefers. We’re saying that God programmed agency into organisms, which has allowed them to adapt to their changing environments. Continuous Environmental Tracking explains how. But to ensure we understand our point we first need to acknowledge how markedly different this is from Darwin’s theory. Darwin suggested that nature, acting on random genetic mutations in organisms, selected for survival the traits it favored. Notice the agency. Darwin assigned agency to nature. Instead of organisms being designed by God to track and adapt to their environment, Darwin gave the power to nature, thereby giving it godlike power and relegating the Creator God to irrelevance. To be clear: Darwinian evolution is a godless theory. Continuous Environmental Tracking, by contrast, is a God-honoring, Christ-magnifying approach to biology, which will become apparent as we unpack what it posits.
Biologists of all worldviews, whether Darwinian evolutionists or those espousing Continuous Environmental Tracking, observe that organisms change. They adapt to their environment.[3] Darwinists and CET proponents differ on how this happens. Darwinian evolution assumes that nature selects (notice the agency given to nature!) from random genetic mutations in organisms. Whatever nature favors survives. Whatever nature disfavors dies. This has sometimes been referred to as survival of the fittest.[4] The fit survive and reproduce. The unfit die. Our point for now is that the theory depends upon death. Organisms progress by eliminating the least fit. Progress comes on the back of death. Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould put it this way,
Selection carves adaptation by eliminating masses of the less fit—imposing hecatombs [great slaughter] of death as preconditions for limited increments of change.
CET proponents, however, espouse a life-positive theory. They acknowledge that in a fallen world death is a reality, but they have noticed that organisms have an innate ability to track their environment and adapt accordingly (the very thing a wise Creator would gift to His creation!). This is a highly significant discovery, which we’ll unpack more below, but for now we must simply acknowledge that many of the variations manifested among organisms aren’t random; they are the result of pre-programmed systems in the organisms (recall that CET is also called engineered adaptability – organisms are programmed to adapt). Yes, random mutations do sometimes occur (despite the astonishingly complex mutation checking and correcting systems with which organisms are equipped), but these mutations, while sometimes providing a limited survival advantage, do not add/create the kind of new genetic information necessary to drive evolution toward completely new structures and organisms.
For example, sickle cell anemia confers resistance to malaria, but it comes at the cost of deformed hemoglobin molecules. The famous E. coli researcher, Richard Lenski (who has been growing bacteria in the lab for over 20 years!), observed a mutation that allowed his bacteria to metabolize citrate under aerobic conditions. Don’t worry about the specifics here. What happened is that something broke in the bacteria that allowed it to digest citrate in a different context. It’s akin to having a light with a sensor that detects when it gets dark and turns on the light. The “mutation” breaks the sensor and the light now stays on all the time. That’s what happened with Lenski’s bacteria. So, yes, mutations can confer certain survival advantages. What they can’t do, however, is confer the sort of large scale, upward changes necessary to produce totally new structures and organisms. You can’t build things by breaking them. 
Our focus for now, though, isn’t the relatively few random mutations that Darwinian evolution desperately depends upon, but the innate programming, the instruction code, that tells organisms how to adapt to their environment. This code threatens Darwinian evolution because it points convincingly to the creative intelligence of God because specified complex codes require intelligence, the kind of intelligence that resides in the mind of God.
But it’s more than the code, and this is what makes this theory so exciting. Here’s what Continuous Environmental Tracking has observed: organisms are equipped with sensors that gather data on environmental conditions, an internal if/then logic processor, and output actuators to enact the logic response. This is truly amazing!  
Let’s consider an example from the engineering world to understand how significant this is: adaptive cruise. Traditional cruise simply holds the vehicle steady at the driver’s desired speed. Adaptive cruise can adapt the vehicle’s speed to match the vehicle in front of it. Now consider what’s involved in this feature. First, the vehicle must be equipped with sensors to detect the speed of the vehicle in front of it. Then, it must have a design logic built in that tells it, If the sensors detect a slower speed, then slow the vehicle to match it. Finally, it must have output actuators that will adjust the vehicle’s speed accordingly. So, sensor, design logic, and output actuators. And the engineer must design these into the vehicle before it hits the road.
And this is precisely what biologists are discovering in organisms! They come equipped with the very tools they need to adapt to their environment. In contrast to Darwin’s theory, which built adaptability on randomness and death (adaptation through breaking things – a horribly inefficient way to adapt!), Continuous Environmental Tracking affirms design and life. The creation psalms rush to mind:  
Praise the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps…
Beasts and all livestock,
creeping things and flying birds (Psalm 148:7, 10)!
Going back to what we highlighted earlier about natural selection. Darwin suggested that nature selected what it favored. He was wrong. Organisms have been equipped by God to optimize themselves so that they can thrive in their environment. They aren’t dependent upon nature to choose its favorite random mutations; they have been designed by God to optimize themselves to their environment. God has blessed His creation with the tools it needs to adapt to its environment.
And there’s no way these sensors, design logics, and output actuators could have evolved incrementally because they all have to be present at the same time. It’s the same with adaptive cruise. All three must exist simultaneously for adaptive cruise to work. One or two out of the three won’t do. It’s no good if the vehicle has a sensor and a design logic, but no output actuator. And it won’t work if it has the output actuator, but lacks the sensor and the design logic. The presence of all three mechanisms (both in vehicles and in organisms) cries out for a designer. Aptly did the Apostle Paul say,
[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made (Romans 1:20).
Now, let’s consider a few examples. Rove Beetles, when they are in the presence of army ants, transform their anatomy to look like the ants. They even alter their smell and their mannerisms to mimic the ants. This is not the result of random mutations, but of a pre-programmed adaptation. They must be able to sense the presence of the ants, and their design logic must be present to receive the data from the sensor and then translate the if/then message to the output actuator to initiate the change.
Blind cave fish were long thought to have lost their sight through random genetic mutations (because biologists were being driven by Darwinian assumptions). Further research, especially by those who have affirmed design in organisms, has shown that these fish are equipped with a sensor that detects the connectivity of the water. This sensor relays the relevant data to the design logic, which communicates the if/then response to the output actuator that tells it to shut down its eyes so as to emphasize other senses.
Cichlid fish, found in many freshwater habitats around the world, have the ability to sense the food type available in their environment and communicate that data to their pre-programmed design logic that, in a matter of just a few weeks, alters the size and strength of their jaw muscles.
Even Darwin’s famous finches are equipped with sensors, a design logic, and output actuators. Researchers noticed that certain species of finches on Santa Cruz Island (off the coast of California) were coming into contact with human food sources (i.e. food in garbage cans, dumpsters, etc.). Within a few generations the “urban finches” displayed differences in beak depth and width from the “rural finches.” The tired Darwinian story attributed this to natural selection acting on random mutations, but researchers discovered that the genes weren’t significantly different between the urban and rural finches (i.e. there was no genetic mutation). The differences were discovered in their epigenetics. Space prevents going into great detail on epigenetics, but think of these as switches on the genes that affect how the genes are expressed. Our point for now is that these finches are clearly equipped with sensors to detect the change in food supply, a design logic that receives the information and communicates what to do about it to the output actuators that are able to implement the necessary changes in the genetic expression. It’s truly amazing!
This is not natural selection; it’s internal selection. Nature doesn’t select; the organism does based on the pre-programmed design logic with which our loving and wise God has equipped His creation.[5] God truly is an engineer and He’s brilliant. – Pastor Conner

[1] You can watch Burgess’s impressive presentation online. Search for “Why Human Skeletal Joints Are Masterpieces of Engineering.”

[2] Darwin used the word races to refer not to people groups, but to animal species.

[3] We must point out, though, that adaptation is not the same as Darwinian evolution. Darwinian evolution extrapolates from adaptation/variation into evolution of entirely new structures and organisms (recall Darwin’s comment about seeing no limit to an organism’s change capacity). This is one of its fatal flaws. Research increasingly shows that organisms have the ability to adapt/change/flex within certain prescribed limits, but cannot go beyond these limits. A dog can demonstrate great variability, but it cannot evolve into a horse. Ever. For more information on this, check out Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution.

[4] This really amounts to an exercise in saying nothing. The “most fit” organism is defined as “the organism that survives to produce offspring” and “the organism that survives to produce offspring” is deemed the “most fit.” Darwin considered the phrase “survival of the fittest” the “more accurate” descriptor of his theory, but he used “natural selection” to emphasize the selective power he was assigning to nature. 

[5] This approach to science has the potential to revolutionize it as scientists no longer begin by assuming randomness and bottom-up, Rube Goldberg-like structures and organisms, but are enabled to begin by assuming purpose and design. This assumption changes the questions scientists ask and the research they do. A great case in point is the misnamed “Junk DNA,” which Darwinists wrote off as functionless, evolutionary leftovers. Assuming design, however, revealed numerous crucial biological functions for the non-coding regions of DNA. 


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