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The Rhetoric of Intelligent Design: Alternatives for Science and Religion

From: Rhetoric & Public Affairs
Volume 1, Number 4, Winter 1998
pp. 593-602 | 10.1353/rap.2010.0103

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Rhetoric of Intelligent Design:
Alternatives for Science and Religion
Celeste Michelle Condit, Professor of Speech Communication
Celeste Michelle Condit, Professor of Speech Communication
University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia


1. It is precisely the separation between the physical variability of DNA and its functions that is consequential. That is, Meyer is wrong when he states that the medium of DNA can be separated from the information it contains, or that coding and information are "prior" to sequence specification. The fact that DNA's coding structure is variable yet also induces the production of specified amino acid sequences is precisely what has allowed living organisms to exhibit evolutionary self-organization. The relative plasticity and mutability of DNA allows practically infinite options for the organization of the cell, and the self-organizing characteristics at the cellular/organismic/proto-cellular level determine which bodies of life replicate. Meyer routinely separates the facets of DNA as self-replicating and as cell directing and argues that the unique characteristics of each half of these two items (or the tension between them) proves that DNA could not have provided an evolutionary basis for life. As I have elsewhere argued, however, it is precisely the binding of these two characteristics in a "double coding" scheme that gives DNA a unique property in the physical world (the emergent characteristic we call "life"). Any argument against the physical/chemical sufficiency of DNA must deal with this holistic synergy, not with the mechanical parts in isolation. Meyer makes this error because his ontology and epistemology privilege "mind-like" entities (e.g., information) over "matter-like" entities—but that is precisely a circular argument. Of course, DNA did not spring into being as it is without transition from inert molecules, and even RNA is too complex to have formed spontaneously, but the DNA/RNA relationship makes it quite plausible to see these two as stair steps in a staircase on which the earlier steps are not visible to us. In fact, Meyer's argument proves too much. If the chemical world and physical properties of DNA were as isolated as he indicated, no useful mutation and evolution could be expected at all. If evolutionary processes are capable of making minor changes in the cell-DNA double-coded specificity, which almost no one doubts, then there is simply no reason to believe that the proto-cell/DNA system is incapable of accumulating these changes through time to create something like modern highly differentiated cell/organism systems. On the "double-coding" character of DNA see Celeste Condit, "The Materiality of Coding: On Rhetoric, Genetics, and the Matter of Life," in Rhetorical Bodies: Toward a Material Rhetoric, ed. Jack Selzer and Sharon Crowley (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, in press).

2. Condit, "The Materiality of Coding." The first detailed analysis of this metaphor occurs in Evelyn Fox Keller, Refiguring Life: Metaphors of Twentieth-Century Biology (New York: Columbia University [End Page 601] Press, 1995). An attempt at a postmodern analysis which is historically informed is available in Lily E. Kay, "Who Wrote the Book of Life? Information and the Transformation of Molecular Biology, 1945-55," Science in Context 8 (1995): 609-34 and Lily E. Kay, The Molecular Vision of Life (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). A fully postmodern treatment is available in Richard Doyle, On Beyond Living: Rhetorical Transformations in the Life Sciences (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997).

3. See Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (1945; reprint, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969).

4. Kenneth Burke, The Rhetoric of Religion (1961; reprint, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970).

5. The "partiality" is key here. I am not arguing that the categories are constructed solely from human imagination and have no material components as referential base. Rather, the material (or "objective") base provides building materials that exert substantial constraints, but human language and agency carve their meanings from these blocks. The categories of species thus reflect both material features of the organisms being taxonomized and also human linguistic systems. See Condit, "The Materiality of Coding," and Celeste Condit Railsback, "Beyond Rhetorical Relativism: A Structural-Material Model of Truth and Objective Reality," Quarterly Journal of Speech 69 (1983): 351-63...