My own conclusion is that man has been given the capability to alter and accelerate the evolutionary transformation of the a priori physical environment that is to participate objectively, directly, and consciously in universal evolution and I assume that the great, complex integrity of omni-coordinate and inter-accommodative yet periodically unique and nonsimultaneously co-operative generalized principles, and their myriad of special case realizations, all of which we speak of as universe and may think intuitively of as God, is an intellectual invention system which counts on man’s employing these capabilities. If he does not do so consciously, events will transpire so that he functions subconsciously in the inexorable evolutionary transformations.The previous article, “ID Theory: A ‘Design’ for Failure” argued that the scientific contentions of “Intelligent Design” theory, even if proven true beyond doubt, do not accomplish their proponents’ aim of offering scientific support for the anthropomorphic deity of the Abrahamic religions and a system of human values based thereon.
--R. Buckminster Fuller, Education Automation
What then are we to make of the panoply of elegance, beauty, and what looks very much like “design” in the world around us? Looking at the geodesic structures of viruses, diatoms and compound eyes, the Fibonacci spirals in Nautilus shells, pine cones and galaxies, or the fractal branching of trees, lightning bolts and river deltas, it is not hard to imagine we’re seeing the signature of a “Designer” or “Designers” written in elegant mathematics.
Evolutionary scientists maintain that all of the “design” in Nature can be traced to the workings of evolutionary mechanisms that need no help from any “outside” intelligence:
Behe's contention that each and every piece of a machine, mechanical or biochemical, must be assembled in its final form before anything useful can emerge is just plain wrong. Evolution produces complex biochemical machines by copying, modifying, and combining proteins previously used for other functions. Looking for examples? The systems in Behe's essay will do just fine.
He writes that in the absence of ‘almost any’ of its parts, the bacterial flagellum ‘does not work.’ But guess what? A small group of proteins from the flagellum does work without the rest of the machine -- it's used by many bacteria as a device for injecting poisons into other cells. Although the function performed by this small part when working alone is different, it nonetheless can be favored by natural selection.
The key proteins that clot blood fit this pattern, too. They're actually modified versions of proteins used in the digestive system. The elegant work of Russell Doolittle has shown how evolution duplicated, retargeted, and modified these proteins to produce the vertebrate blood-clotting system.”
-- Kenneth R. Miller
In other words, evolution is able to form complex systems by taking elements that work in other systems and adapting them, in concert with other elements, to function in entirely different ways, with each stage of the process being functional enough to enhance the survivability of the organism. Doesn’t that seem just a little bit…clever?
Isn’t the idea that a natural process can “recycle” a protein from the digestive system and convert it to the function of clotting blood without any help from an “outside” intelligence even more awe-inspiring and mind-boggling than the notion of a humanlike person doing it, no matter how “super” he may be?
The evolutionary process itself qualifies as an “Intelligent Designer.” What is “intelligence?” For the purposes of this essay, “intelligence” will be defined as “the ability to identify, integrate, and utilize information. We humans tend to operate on an anthropocentric mode that assumes that only humans (and perhaps super-human beings such as aliens or gods) are intelligent, and everything else is non-intelligent.
However, there is no reason to assume without proof that intelligence cannot exist on a broad spectrum of amplitude (how “intelligent” something is) and frequency (how fast information is processed). Let us consider the humble electron. It has a negative electric charge that enables it to “detect” the presence of other charges. If it detects another negative charge (e.g. an electron), both will react by moving away from each other. If it detects a positive charge, such as that of a proton, it will be drawn toward the source, joining with it to form a new entity, a hydrogen atom.
By itself, the electron has a very, very minimal ability to “identify, integrate, and utilize” a very simple information set—the presence or absence of electromagnetic charges. Likewise for its counterpart the proton. But if you get enough hydrogen atoms together, their mutual interactions (their ability to “detect” each other via electromagnetism and gravity, and “respond” by drawing together) will be sufficient to generate a vast cloud of gas collapsing on itself to form a star. By forming a star, the hydrogen is able to engage in a whole new form of interaction: fusion into helium, and then into a range of other, heavier elements as the star perishes in a supernova explosion.
These new heavy elements then gather together into new solar systems with planets, which eventually generate life, and that life evolves to greater intelligence until it is able to think about that ancient star that gave itself to forge the “stuff” that made the intelligences possible. In a sense, the star has become aware of itself.
At each stage, the material “identifies, integrates, and utilizes” information to self-organize, bootstrapping itself to “intelligence” of higher amplitude and frequency. The “intelligence” of Universe (such as that in the “hydrogen-atom network” that is a cloud of hydrogen gas) is not noticeable to us because we are operating at such a high frequency that it is a major scientific accomplishment on our part to discover that the hydrogen clouds are doing something as interesting as giving birth to stars.
Even unambiguously "intelligent designers"--humans--have taken to using evolutionary processes to design new technologies. Using computers programmed with evolutionary algorithms (also called genetic algorithms), scientists can not only demonstrate the workings of evolution by natural selection, they can put the process to practical use.
If we look at the ordinary sort of "intelligent design," say, an architect creating a bridge, we can see an evolutionary process at work. First, the architect considers the "environment"--the span that is to be crossed by the bridge, the amount of traffic it must bear, the resources available for construction, the nature of the land at each end of the bridge (basaltic rock, clay, granite bedrock under soil, etc.), and so forth.
Then, the architect will consider evolutionary ancestors: other types of successful bridges (suspension, wooden tressel, stone with arches, etc.). Then the architect starts sketching out possible designs and seeing how well they meet the design criteria (the "environment," which now includes the architect's aesthetic preferences). Modeling different bridge designs in his mind, on paper using physics equations, or using computer models, the architect will winnow out designs that won't work (those that cannot support the traffic volume, are too expensive to build, etc.) ultimately resulting in a final bridge design that gets built.
All of this can easily be seen as an evolutionary process. The major difference is that in "design," the evolutionary process of "mutation" (the addition of new information) and selection takes place in a "virtual" environment of a human mind (perhaps supplemented by the virtual environent of a computer simulation) instead of out in the world.
By looking at designed artifacts, it is possible to trace their evolutionary ancestry back to common ancestors. Automobiles can be traced back to the Model T, and to "primitive ancestors" like Henry Ford's quadricycle and the Stanley Steamer, which clearly show descent from other "species"--the horse-drawn wagon, the bicycle, the locomotive.
Though "design evolution" has a greater degree of flexibility than the biological variety (it can produce a mutant offspring of a wagon, bicycle, and a locomotive, while biological evolution cannot produce an offpsring of a horse, eagle, and a lizard to combine elements of the three), the process is the same. In "intelligent design" it is human ideas of structure, rather than genes, that evolve.
A Thought Experiment
Imagine a race of intelligent nano-scale organisms, about the size of virus particles. Being as small as they are, their quantum-molecular computer brains can process information millions of times faster than ours, since their thoughts need traverse only the tiniest distances.
Now, some of these creatures make their way to Earth, and take up residence in a neuron in someone’s brain. Eventually, they forget their origins, and come to think of the neuron as their world. But they begin a process of scientific discovery, and come to learn the astonishing fact that their neuron is not the Universe, but only one of billions. Then, with long-range scientific observations, they discover that, over a process of millions of their years, electrical charges move from neuron to neuron.
At first, these impulses seem totally random, obviously a ‘natural’ process. But a few microseconds—and many virus-years later—some of their scientists begin to suspect there’s some kind of order to the pulses. Taken alone, each appears random, but treated as a whole, they seem to form cohesive patterns incompatible with purely random chance.
Two theories spring up among the virus-people. One claims that the pattern the impulses seem to form must be the result of Intelligent Design. Therefore, there is a Super-Virus that resides in some dimension beyond the physical universe telling each neuron when to fire, according to His Divine Plan. The other school of thought teaches that the impulses are just an unguided, random product of ordinary chemical processes, and they produce a great volume of scientific data explaining how a neuron fires, showing how each aspect of the electrochemical reactions involved takes place without any need for an invisible Super-Virus to pull the strings.
Both “sides” are wrong in one sense, and right in another. Could this be our situation in relation to Universal evolutionary processes, with time-scales in the millions and billions of years?
A critic could argue that this sort of “cosmic intelligence” is not real intelligence because it is not self-reflective and volitional. Electrons don’t choose to combine with protons, nor do they perceive and reflect on the electrical charges in their environment the way we perceive and reflect on things in ours. However, our self-reflective consciousness appears to be an emergent property of networked interactions of…electrons, in our brains.  It could also be argued that we are the self-reflective, volitional aspect of “cosmic intelligence.” Furthermore, as "designers, we manifest the process of evolution in an accelerated, volitionally-directed form.
In the words of Buckminster Fuller:
We are quite possibly the most complex of the problem-solving challenges of the invention that is eternally regenerative Scenario Universe. In this way, each of us might be a department of the mind of what we might call God.
--R. Buckminster Fuller, Synergetics 2: Further Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, p. 64 (311.14)
Neuroscience has provided quite compelling evidence that consciousness is a function of the brain, and that alterations to our brain (via damage) or brain chemistry (through drugs or medication) can alter or even totally transform our consciousness. This article, though written by an author that favors "spirit" rather than the brain as the seat of consciousness, fairly presents the evidence of both sides. One problem for the notion of "spirit-based" consciousness that he does not address is that the concept of "spirit" remains undefined and un-verified