Salvo 4: What's So Intelligent About Design
This past October, a large mass was discovered in my wife Paige’s stomach that demanded immediate medical attention. My family endured three long weeks of tests and X-rays as the doctors attempted to determine whether the mass was cancerous. Throughout that time, my wife was in quite a bit of pain and thus unable to care for our two children. I did not work at all during the ordeal, which explains why Salvo 4 is so late in getting to you. I trust you’ll forgive the delay.
It was on a Friday that we received the diagnosis. My wife and I met with the chief of surgery at a hospital here in Chicago, and it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. Despite the battery of scans and examinations that Paige had already undergone, the results of which this surgeon possessed, he insisted that she submit to another full exam for the benefit of his two interns, who fumbled their way through the process, poking and prodding nervously. My wife asked the two young women what they knew about her condition, but both pleaded ignorance and left the room.
When the surgeon finally arrived (the wait was interminable), he quizzed his interns and then asked us blankly whether we wanted to see the mass in three dimensions. He took us to a computer, surrounded on three sides by other doctors and interns, and we watched as he used his mouse to navigate around a 3D photograph of Paige’s abdominal cavity, identifying various organs without revealing the mass itself, presumably to build some suspense. Finally, he showed it to us—a melon-sized blob—and I saw out of the corner of my eye two of the interns exchanging glances with grins on their faces. I could tell that they were salivating over the surgical possibilities.
At this point, we had been in the doctor’s office for over an hour, and no one had yet told us what the mass was. When I asked, we were marched into another room—for privacy, I suppose, though the interns came in as well—and asked to sit down. In as perfunctory a manner as possible, the chief of surgery then told us that the mass was a slow-growing cancer—no need for a biopsy; he had seen enough to know—and that he wanted to cut Paige open and attempt to remove it. The explanation was dispassionate and clinical. We had been treated all along as though Paige were merely a collection of arteries and cells, and now I knew for sure that this was precisely how she was being perceived.
Needless to say, we decided to get a second opinion and so traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The incident in Chicago had shaken us both, and Paige feared a similar reception and diagnosis here. But she needn’t have worried. The entire city of Rochester is devoted to the clinic that lies at its center. The hotels all contain underground passageways that lead to the hospital, wheelchairs are available for the borrowing on just about every street corner (you leave them where they are once you’re done with them), and you can obtain discount rates on everything from airfare to meals if you’re a patient. I had never seen anything like it.
The doctors at the clinic eschew white coats for casual business attire, and the usual rules forbidding family and friends from entering testing and exam areas have long since been abandoned. Indeed, Mayo attends to each detail of the care it provides with the comfort of the patients in mind. These doctors really listened to Paige; they touched her affectionately and with genuine concern; and they provided us with a constant flow of information, keeping nothing hidden and always making sure that I felt supported and informed as well. In short, they ministered to both of us as people—much more than the sum of our parts—and my wife grew progressively more unguarded and relaxed as our week there proceeded.
Consequently, Paige felt at ease enough to talk freely about her illness—to try to convince her doctors that she had been experiencing stomach discomfort for her entire life, and that it was related to the mass. Instead of immediately operating on her, the doctors thus decided to perform a biopsy first, interpreting her lifelong pain as resulting from something other than a malignancy, which typically would not take so much time to grow. Sure enough, they discovered that my wife did not have cancer at all, but rather sclerosing mesenteritis, a rare disease of the mesentery tissue that can be treated with steroids. The doctors likewise learned that a part of the mass is cystic with a tendency to bleed within itself if jostled (which actually happened after the biopsy). Had we let the surgeon in Chicago attempt to remove it, the outcome could have been disastrous.
I tell this story not merely to share with you our joy over the fact that Paige stands a good chance of becoming well again, but also to help explain the importance of the scientific theory known as intelligent design (ID), the focus of this issue of Salvo. The doctors at Mayo did not treat my wife like she was mere matter—a chance arrangement of genes and molecules—nor did they close their minds to the possibility that there was evidence worth considering that transcended common medical preconceptions. Similarly, ID advocates approach the natural world without the Darwinist blinders that would limit their field of inquiry to naturalistic explanations. They are thus making remarkable scientific discoveries, many of which are detailed in the following pages, that those limited to an evolutionary paradigm have missed. In short, ID scientists operate without materialist presumptions, and this has opened the door to a whole new range of potential scientific findings.
The Mayo physicians sought an explanation for Paige’s symptoms that resonated with her intuitions. So, too, do ID proponents take seriously the suspicion, shared by most of the world’s people, that the universe is a product of intelligence. Not coincidentally, the universe itself bears out this hunch on almost every level, from the precise conditions in the cosmos to support life to the machine-like intricacy of a bacterial cell. One might even say that “design” is the unifying characteristic of all natural phenomena, and, unlike Darwinists, who insist that such structured complexity is merely an optical illusion, ID advocates take it at face value, arguing that our persistent belief in a creator is a rational response to the obvious signs in nature of intelligent causation. This commonsense attitude toward science, one that does not dismiss certain possibilities as a matter of principle but follows the evidence wherever it leads, is what distinguishes ID from Darwinism. It is also what may have saved my wife’s life. My hope is that by this issue’s end you will likewise see the value of an investigatory framework that is untainted by a priori convictions. •
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