Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Intelligent Design Is

The headlines in the main stream media have been rhetorical:

Not Intelligent and Surely Not Science

Devolution: Why Intelligent Design Isn’t

Catching up with the Past on Evolution

The statements in the articles border on hysterical:

Our fingertip grip on the 21st century is already slipping. We could tumble into the 18th century before you can say macroevolution.”

Intelligent Design advocates have much to answer for. They are retarding the spirit of scientific inquiry among our youth.”

Intelligent Design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo.”

Such hyperbola has been accompanied by a series of lawsuits over the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) in the public schools. In Oct. 2004, the Dover, Penn. school board decreed that “students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design.” Then all hell broke loose.

It appears that there is considerably more heat than light being shed on this controversy. Today I found out that even the Starbucks intelligentsias are confused. I was moved to blog!

For an authoritative description of ID let’s turn to one of the scientists who have proposed design as an explanation for biological systems, biochemistry professor Michael Behe.

First, what it isn't: ID is not a religiously based idea; it says nothing about the religious concept of a creator. It is certainly not Biblical literalism or what used to be called creationism. Nor does it reject Darwin’s theory of evolution, the process whereby life arose from non-living matter and subsequently developed entirely by natural means.

Rather, the contemporary argument for ID is based on physical evidence and a straightforward application of logic. The argument for ID consists of four linked claims:

1. We can often recognize the effects of design in nature. This is uncontroversial.

2. The physical marks of design are visible in aspects of biology. This, too, is uncontroversial.

3. We have no good explanation for the foundation of life that doesn't involve intelligence. Here is where thoughtful people may part company.

4. In the absence of any convincing non-design explanation, we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in life.

In order to evaluate these last two claims we need to look at the physical evidence, at the molecular biology. However we should not overlook design simply because it is so obvious.

The principle claim is that there are things in the world, most notably life, that cannot be accounted for by known natural causes and show features that one would attribute to intelligence. Living organisms are too complex to be explained by any natural, mindless process.

In “Darwin’s Black Box” Behe argues that cells are complex not just in degree but in kind. Cells contain structures that are “irreducibly complex.” This means that if you remove any single part from such a structure, the structure no longer functions. Thus the first rediculously complex cell had to be made in one step, a near mathematical impossibility if governed by random chance. Behe speculates that the “designer” might have assembled the first cell, essentially solving the problem of irreducible complexity, after which evolution might well have proceeded by more or less conventional means.

Furthermore, scientists now know that life is based on incredibly complex machines made of molecules. Can all of life be fit into Darwin’s evolution model?

Darwin himself understood the challenge:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

A few months ago, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and laser inventor Charles Townes was awarded the $1.5 million Templeton Prize. “Religion,” Townes said, “is aimed at understanding the purpose and meaning of our universe, including our own lives. If the universe has a purpose and meaning, this must be reflected in its structure and functioning, and hence in science.

Opinion polls show that the public “overwhelmingly, and sensibly, thinks that life was designed. And so do many scientists (myself included) who see roles for both the messiness of evolution and the elegance of design.”


Anonymous Pamela Cleveland said...

Phillip Johnson has been a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, for 26 years. He received his B.A. from Harvard and his J.D. from the University of Chicago. Johnson is the author of Darwin on Trial, a work which contends theories of evolution are based on philosophical naturalism.
When I homeschooled 2 of my sons ,I had them read Johnson's Darwin on Trial when it was hot off the press! And that was 12 yrs ago! However, critics like to say:He is a self-described conservative Christian creationist!

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the process whereby life arose from non-living matter and subsequently developed entirely by natural means" biology teaches that life arises from life and can't come from non-living matter. I have been studying darwin for some time now and havn't come across him saying that life arose from non-living matter, but that definatly doesn't mean that he didn't say it..i could have just missed it so i would apreciate it if someone would show me where he said that. i always thought he was a religious person and that suprises me that he said that

3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to take issue with the premise that “…design…” in nature leads to the necessity of a designer. What does it mean that something shows signs of “…design…”? I vaguely recall from complexity, or maybe, chaos theory the idea of strange attractors. It seems that nature appears to favor certain kinds of forms of organization over others. It may well be that there are immutable laws that manifest themselves as these designs you refer to.

I also find the criticism of randomness problematic. In billions of galaxies, with billions of stars, over billions of years, doesn’t it seem that we might just be that unlikely event?


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