Watch “Exploring Paradigms and Design” (22 min) – Dr. Paul Nelson
Dr. Paul Nelson compares the conventional paradigm with the historical Genesis paradigm, then discusses the importance of intelligent design, genetics, and language.
Oh, look at this. Now that’s a memory storage device.
I know, it’s amazing. This is an amazing place.
Oh, this brings back memories.
Look at this thing. Must have taken up a whole room.
Yeah, this is the monster computer that I started with.
Massive tape drives everywhere.
Your time with the 360 is a slice of your history, but actually, the story is longer, right? Well, it is, because I did my degree in computer science there, and then worked in artificial intelligence, in the graduate role, then at Auburn did graduate work in software engineering, computer science, and then eventually got my doctorate with a minor in computer science, and in between there, working in software systems at the – in the Air Force, and on space systems, the whole gambit. Yeah. So you lived through all kinds of changes in this technology, from the beginning of your undergraduate years, right on through to your doctorate. That’s exactly right. And that’s why I’m here. That’s why we’re talking.
We’re at this incredible Computer History Museum, with all of the artifacts that show us the progression of this amazing technological revolution that’s occurred.
And no one would question that. yeah. I mean, we have the artifacts, we have the history, the historical statements, but when we move back to origins, right, and this is your expertise.
We have artifacts, and we have historical documents, but all of a sudden, we have radically different opinions of what those artifacts in that history says. Radically different.
In fact, you’re looking, really, at what are competing paradigms, a term that I first encountered as a 19 year old art school dropout reading Thomas Kuhn’s classic, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” which revolutionized my own understanding of science.
And you gain a vision from that book of science, as a creative human enterprise, where assumptions can’t be escaped.
And, depending on the assumptions that you choose, you can end up with very different narratives.
So we’ve got data. We’ve got evidence. We’ve got, in effect, artifacts, but those pieces of evidence are being interpreted in very different ways, depending on the assumptions that one makes.
So really, science isn’t just about the evidence. It’s about how you interpret that evidence.
So these competing paradigms will put you in very different places, depending on which one you’re in. So it comes down to paradigms. Oh yeah.
A paradigm governs, really, everything that you think about a particular subject.
It provides this global framework.
So this room, for example. We’ve got so-called mini computers here, but really, they’re not mini at all, in terms of our current paradigm.
Yeah. Today, right? Yeah.
So really, to understand this question of origins, you really need to begin by looking at the governing paradigms. The two major views that we currently have about the history of life, and the history of the universe. And what are those? On the one hand, we have the conventional paradigm.
This is the view that the universe began a long time ago, in a very simple state, and by strictly physical processes, developed gradually and continuously into all the complexity that we see today.
Galaxies, stars, planets, cells, animals, human beings. It’s one long, continuous, story from a very simple beginning, to today.
That’s one view. The second view we can call let’s say the historical Genesis paradigm.
First of all, you’ve got recency.
Right? This is not happening over a very long time, it’s happening relatively recently, and it begins in a state of functionality where it’s working already.
You’ve got organisms present, they’re doing what they need to do, you’ve got planets and solar systems already operating, brought into existence really within a very short span of time, simultaneously.
Homo sapiens is present right there. Right at the start.
So those two views contrasts, really, at every point.
And their key features are also very different.
It’s not hard to see there’s a radical difference between those two.
In terms of time.
What else do you see is contrasted here, between these two paradigms?
To me, the most striking difference is what kinds of causes are operating.
So in the conventional paradigm, it’s physics running the show.
Physics, through chemistry, influencing biochemistry, and then biology, all the change that’s happening is coming bottom-up from fundamental, undirected, mindless physical processes.
They’re doing everything.
In the historical Genesis view, underlying everything is mind, is intellect.
A purposeful intelligence is bringing things into existence.
That’s a deep – that’s a profound difference.
Another key difference is the actual sequence of events.
So, in the conventional paradigm, you have a gradual process whereby things are constructed, beginning on what came before. So ultimately, really, you start with, you know, elementary particles, hydrogen, and helium, the heavier elements, galaxies are formed, planets, and so forth, leading eventually to the first cell.
It’s a continual process of gradual transformation.
With the historical Genesis paradigm, you have a transcendent intelligence, God, acting in space and time to bring things into existence, in a sense discontinuously.
And that pattern gives you discrete events in space and time that aren’t strictly flowing, one from the other, so you have the creation you have the Fall, which is a catastrophic event that affects all of the creation in a radical way. So again you see a striking difference in the narrative that one would tell, depending on your starting point.
And lastly, and maybe this is the most important, what is the whole of reality?
Is it strictly physical?
Are we, you know, meat machines that will decay into nothing upon our death?
Or is there a spiritual dimension to our existence that is eternal?
That has eternal value?
And really, that final point is the one I think that’s most decisive.
Because it ends up affecting how we treat each other.
And science is one thing, but our moral sense, our relationship with God, we can’t have a relationship with God if we are strictly physical creatures.
So finally, on that fourth point, you see the the deepest difference between these two paradigms.
Well Paul, what we’ve described here are two paradigms that really have very little similarity.
They are – they’re almost light-years, if you want to use the phrase, light-years apart.
And it seems to me that the result of that is also radically different, in terms of how I see myself.
Who am I? All those philosophical questions, right? Why am I here? What’s the purpose of life?
Is there any meaning in all of this?
And the paradigm that begins with natural processes and ends with natural processes, it’s hard to find meaning. It’s hard to find meaning. In fact, the very concept of a deeper meaning, a deeper purpose, has no purchase in that view.
Because, if you’re ultimately particles in motion, when your particular bag of particles ceases to be in motion, it’s over, right?
That is not the view of historical Genesis, where you are created, yes, as a physical object, but there is more to you than just your particles.
In fact, there’s infinitely more.
And so, really, the difference ramifies out into every aspect of human life.
Which is why this question of origins is so important. It’s not just a scientific matter, it’s not just a scientific debate.
But it seems to me that the evidence that we have here is available to both of these paradigms if you just look at the physical evidence. The physical evidence is a common body of data that both views draw on and interpret.
But they’re taking from that common body of evidence very different meanings, and they’re going in very different directions.
It’s a bit like having a crime scene where you’ve got two detectives, and they’ve got the same patterns, right?
One guy says it’s this, the other says it’s that, they’re going in quite different directions away from the same body of data.
And it seems that they’re going in different directions because one paradigm is listening to a witness telling you the story of what happened – Yeah, I like that. versus the other one who’s just looking at the physical data. Right. Because isn’t that what we have in the historical Genesis paradigm?
We have a witness to those events, and that witness is telling us, this is what happened. And we have to take that into consideration when we evaluate the data.
Well, that brings me to an issue I know that you’ve heard often.
And I want us to look at this for a second, because one of the strong accusations against those who hold to a historical Genesis paradigm is that it’s not based upon science.
But that can’t be true.
Doesn’t this paradigm also look at the reality of the physical evidence? Oh, of course it does. The problem with that objection, which I’m familiar with, is it’s smuggling into the word “science” an assumption, and when someone says, well, you’re not looking at it scientifically, what they’re presupposing or smuggling in is, you’re only allowed to use physical processes.
But you couldn’t live a single day thinking that way. Every time you get a text on your phone, you know, someone leaves a note in your car door when they bump your car in a supermarket parking lot.
Normal human life depends on our ability to detect the action of intelligence.
And we don’t collapse intelligence into strictly physics.
So, if a scientist tells me I’m not allowed to use intelligent design to understand or explain the world, I ask him, how do you get through your day?
Right? Because you’re doing it all the time very reliably.
Science in its deep sense, its original usage in Latin, meant knowledge.
We know that Stonehenge was constructed by an intelligence.
That conclusion will be true when our current theories of physics are long gone. So these inferences to intelligence are very robust, they’re strong, and they’re fully rational.
So I think that the objection that you mentioned is really misdirected.
And it’s question begging.
Well Paul, just as we’re standing here in the – in this Computer History Museum, no one – no one would say that all of this amazing technology just simply arose as a result of physical processes.
We wouldn’t do that.
We know that an intelligent being – we saw the pictures of all of those amazing people who each added their own intelligence as a part of this process, and yet, what we’re dealing with is a paradigm that is not willing to accept that.
It’s a funny thing about the use of intelligence in explanation.
It would be profoundly irrational to say that these devices self-assembled.
In fact, no one would say that, because it’s simply not true. But when we come to things like the origin of life, the origin of the first cell, the origin of humankind, there, the agent in question, the intelligence in question, wouldn’t be a member of our species Homo sapiens.
So suddenly, the temperature in the room goes way up.
Because the implications for saying the first cell was caused by a mind suddenly involve things that look a lot like theology.
And it becomes a much more difficult question for people to evaluate objectively.
Which is why these questions of origins, as I said a moment ago, aren’t really simply scientific questions.
They spill over at every point into theology, into philosophy, into these deep questions of who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?
So I think, in many cases, for scientists, they function with a split personality.
They would say, yeah, a mini-computer had to have a designer.
I ask, how about a eukaryotic cell?
Vastly more sophisticated in its engineering, if you will, than any of the devices we’ve looked at.
Now, that hypothesis of design that was rationale for the mini computer, suddenly becomes problematic.
Not because of the evidence, but because of what it entails. What it implies about the universe.
It seems strange, of course, for those of us who hold to the Genesis paradigm, to see that people would point back to Babbage, or to Seymour Cray, to those people that we know or have the intelligence behind all of this, but it seems like there is the barrier when all of a sudden, that begins to be God.
Yeah. You know what’s so funny to me is the same features in these systems, these computers, that we say are diagnostic of an intelligent cause, such as integrated functionality, the role of information, and so forth, those same features are present in a single bacterial cell, but at a much more sophisticated level.
So I see a disconnect between evidence and inference, going from evidence to cause, that really can’t be explained as a question of science.
What’s happening is at some point along that pathway, there’s a bypass, or there’s an off-ramp, and the rational chain that should lead you to a designer takes you off in a different direction.
It seems that one paradigm is drawing on a history that was given to us, and another paradigm is constructing that history. Is that how you see that? Well, it’s constructing that history under a set of constraints.
The history can only appeal to physical processes.
So if in reality a designer or creator did act discreetly in space and time, they can’t detect that, because they’ve ruled out that possibility from the start.
If you look at a puzzle, and decide that certain answers are unacceptable to you, it really doesn’t matter what the evidence is. You’re never going to discover those answers.
So if you begin doing your history with an assumption, I’m only allowed to use the- you know, this restricted set of strictly physical causes, you will be unable to discover the true history, if the true history involved an intelligence.
Well Paul, the reason this becomes serious is that we’re not talking about a history of just boiling water at a certain temperature, you know, we’re talking about a history that deals with the origin of the universe, it deals with the origin of life, the origin of humanity, the origin of sin, and why there is evil in the world, the origin of the geological formations that we have around us, the origin of language. I mean this is history. That is not minor.
This is dealing with major, major elements of humanity, and where we are. Yeah. You’re talking about the origin of literally everything.
And I think if we zoom out from that, and say well, what really is the difference between these two paradigms?
It isn’t a question of science on the one hand versus religion on the other.
Because both of them are scientific in the sense of looking at a common body of data.
Really, at the deepest level, the difference is two competing views of history.
What is the true history of our cosmos?
And in that light, I think it makes a lot more sense to look at them as paradigms that draw on different accounts of history with different implications.
Oh, this is incredible.
These are software languages.
And starting with Fortran, but it shows – I guess all the lines are showing the commonality to some extent. I know Fortran, I’ve learned a lot of these. A lot of these languages.
This line here from Pascal to Ada, know both of those. Ada is the language we use to develop that large command and control system in Cheyenne Mountain.
You know what’s interesting, when you look at this diagram, it superficially appears to be an evolutionary tree.
But in fact, what this represents is an enormous, incalculable amount of creative activity by human intelligence.
Each of these languages required at least one author, and often more than one, right?
And all along this pattern you see human creativity bringing these things into existence.
That’s exactly right. In fact, if you look at this, and you think in terms of evolution, you might think that Pascal, for example, kind of evolved into Ada. Well I don’t deny that there are some similarities there, but I can tell you, there was a whole team of people that were working on the development of Ada.
It wasn’t a matter of taking Pascal and somehow squeezing it and putting it under pressure and it popped out Ada. There was a lot of work that went into that.
Language, if you think about it, can give you goosebumps.
Because it’s a symbolic representation of reality.
You know, going from the physical world and the immaterial world. I mean we have languages about mathematics, and mathematics is immaterial.
Going from those worlds into our own consciousness in a way that we can recreate those realities and express them to other people in symbolic form, and you know, one aspect of that is these computer languages, to me, all of it evincing design.
We don’t see language unless we have intelligence present.
And we see language of a higher order present in living things.
I’ll tell you something funny about Fortran.
A German team looked at the regularities in Fortran – that is, the ability to predict the next symbol in a string of symbols based on what came before.
Fortran is less complex than the base sequence of the yeast third chromosome.
So the DNA sequence in the yeast third chromosome is more irregular, packing in more information, than Fortran. In fact, the yeast third chromosome, this sequence of symbols, is almost perfectly random, except that randomness gives rise to functional proteins.
So in a comparison, what you would have to say if you’re consistent, is DNA represents a language of an extremely high order.
I think DNA is, as an information storage medium, has what we’ve developed beat, hands down.
So you can pack the three billion plus base pairs of DNA in the human genome, wrapping them up as we find them in real cells, into something that’s so small you need a microscope to see it. Yet, there is an enormous amount of information in that tiny space.
That’s information storage. Yeah.
I’ve heard that DNA information, and all that’s contained there, would fill volumes and volumes of books in terms of the lines of code. Maybe millions of lines of code.
When we developed the system for Cheyenne Mountain, that was about a total of 40,000 lines. It took us a year with a very sharp crack team.
And most of our work was done to try to make sure that there was no errors in it. Because an error in software you develop is disastrous.
Yeah. But here, we’re talking about the information in a cell that is so good, and so refined, that it does amazing things. It does amazing things. And the fascinating thing about all cells that we know is that they, too, have error correction mechanisms.
They want to maintain high fidelity transfer of information.
So there’s error checking there, as well. The same rules of information transfer, namely, minimize noise, maintain your signal, fidelity, present in these codes, present in living things. Isn’t that awesome. Yeah.