When we ask ourselves how the diversity of life that surrounds our everyday experiences we are asking a question that has been around for many ages. The ancients believed the stars that filled the night sky were mere holes of light shining through from the heavens. As the Enlightenment came in 17th century Astronomers like Sir Isaac Newton began to scientifically explain the phenomena of the stars and planets. The progression of scientific understanding from the Enlightenment changed the way we understood the universe and our place in it. As a result, the new scientific paradigms came into direct conflict with the traditional beliefs that society was founded upon.
For instance, Copernicus provided a mathematical model that proved it was actually the sun that was the center of the solar system and not the Earth. This claim created an acute conflict with the prevailing religious dogma of the 16th century that stated we lived in a geocentric world. (Larson 13) Similarly, Darwin, Galileo, and Descartes were both hesitant on publishing their confirmed scientific works because, they knew they would be branded as heretics and thusly susceptible to state punishment.
Arguably, Charles Darwin brought about the biggest scientific paradigm shift in history. On the 24th of November in 1859 Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. (Myer 25) Darwin’s theory of Evolution challenged the essential tenants of Christianity. It challenged the concept that God specifically created humans and that we held a special place in the cosmos.
150 years later and Darwin’s theory of evolution is still spawning controversy today in our school systems. Disagreements over what is acceptable in the school curriculum are debated on a continuous basis in America: The Scopes Trial of the 1920’s, The Arkansas Trial of the 1980’s, and most recently in September of this year, The Texas School Board of Education is finding itself in disruption due to an internal battle over a set of biology books. (Weissert) On one hand, there are the religious groups who want Intelligent Design theories in the science class. The opposing groups, often times the science teachers and parents, believe that theories of Intelligent Design have no place in the science class room. Both sides claim that they have their children’s best interest in mind; However, if we examine the ideas of both schools of thought it will be clear to see that scientific theories, like the theory of evolution, are more apt at describing the true nature of reality.
In his book What Evolution Is, accomplished Evolutionary Biologist Ernst Mayr elegantly defines evolution as “the change in the properties of populations of organisms over time”. (Mayr 25) This process is carried out by, what Darwin called Natural Selection. Natural selection is when particular organisms that are better adapted to their environment tend to outlive and populate as the dominant species. Other natural mechanisms like genetic variation, mutations, genetic drift, and adaptation are contributing factors to the evolutionary process of a species. (Caldwell)
21st century Intelligent Design theorists attempt to make a careful distinction between themselves and creationist scientists. In The Design Revolution William Dembski lays out the following about what Intelligent Design really stands for. He says that Intelligent Design is a legitimate realm of scientific inquiry that has no reasoning based on any theological premise. Intelligent Design does not attempt to tell the story of the creation process nor does it presuppose a supernatural powerful entity. In Dembski’s words Intelligent Design theories seek to “explain the arrangement of materials within an already given world.” (Dembski 43) They purport that there are certain biological organisms that explicitly point to signs of an intelligent designer. Intelligent design argues that there must have been an intelligent cause that is responsible for the complexity of that organism. Their main arguments are called Irreducible complexity and Specified Complexity.
These two prevailing theories come into quarrel when we look at seemingly designed physical traits of certain species. For instance, take the giraffe and it’s notoriously long neck.
There are two competing evolutionary theories of how this happened. One known as the Competing Browsers hypothesis and the other is called the Necks-For-Sex hypothesis. Darwin hypothesized in The Competing Browsers’ theory that giraffes that had longer necks were more capable of reaching trees for food and thusly, had a greater chance of survival and passed on that specific gene that accounted for the longer neck to successive generations. The contender of the Competing Browser hypothesis would say that the genetic mutations that brought about an elongated neck were advantageous to its natural environment and it’s survival, and is the reason why giraffes have long necks.
Evolutionary biologist Robert Simmons claim in The Necks-For-Sex theory that giraffes evolved to have elongated necks as a consequence of sexual selection. Simmons’ claim is that male giraffes will swing their heads and exchange blows with one another in a competition to mate with their female counterparts. They show that giraffes that have prolonged necks had an advantage during these combats and that they usually won. Thusly, those males with longer necks had a higher rate of reproducing and passing on that specific gene for long necks. (Simmons 1996)
On the other hand, the ID proponent would say that the giraffe’s long neck is a result from an intelligent designer. They say that the mere chance that a species developed such a critical trait is too great. They would argue that there is a specified complexity in the traits existence. To illustrate the concept of specified complexity the Intelligent Designers use two basic analogies. First, the lock-picking analogy that explains the “complex” in specified complexity. Take a lock that goes from numbers 1-100. Say it requires the combination of five of those numbers to successfully unlock it. This means that there are 10 billion different combinations that can be entered in until the correct combination is entered. The likelihood of entering the combination correctly by chance is highly improbable. This analogy refers to the unlikelihood of DNA being able sequence itself by chance so that such a desirable trait may be produced. So, complexity in the phrase specified complexity makes a reference to the improbability of the existence of such an essential trait.
The Specified in specified complexity makes references to the specific places where genes need to send genetic information in order to successfully mutate. The analogy they use to demonstrate this concept is the archer analogy. An archer consciously aims for the bulls-eye of a target. If time after time, the archer successfully hits the bull’s eye we know that it must not be by chance but by some intelligent cause. They make this inference to claim that a similar type of intelligent guide chooses between different possibilities in certain biological mechanisms. (Dembski 82)
Dembski has attempted to provide mathematical proof for the occurrence of specified complexity but his findings are generally regarded as self-contradictory and disregarded by the general scientific community. Dr. Wesley Royce Elsberry published an article in the journal Synthese that said Dembki’s papers on specified complexity are “riddled with inconsistencies and misrepresentations of other’s results.” (Elsberry 2)
The second area of contention between the evolutionist and intelligent design proponent comes when examining the fundamental structures of the microorganism called bacterial flagellum. The bacterial flagellum is an example of a biochemical machine that is used by bacteria to “swim through liquid media”. (Freddolino) The bacterial flagellum consists of three fundamental components: “an ion driven motor, the hook, and a filament which acts as a propeller”. (Freddolino)
According to Intelligent Design proponent Ph.D. Biochemist Michael Behe bacterial flagellum is a prime example of a biological mechanism that is irreducibly complex. To illustrate the concept of irreducible complexity Intelligent Design theorists use the mousetrap as a basic analogy. A mousetrap is made up of 5 fundamental components. It consists of the wooden platform, the catch, the spring, the hammer, and the hold-down bar. As soon as one removes any of the five pieces from the mousetrap it ceases to function effectively because all of the pieces are critically dependent on one another.
Intelligent Design theorists claim that certain biological organisms, like bacterial flagellum have required parts that must be present in order for it to perform its task. They ask, “How could it have evolved piece by piece if all of its components are necessary for it’s functioning?” They would say that an intelligent designer must have set out its blueprints for its existence.
The Evolutionist would counter argue that the bacterial flagellum has a cousin called “Yersinia pestis”, also known as the bubonic plague. Yersinia pestis is a non-motile microorganism that serves the purpose of injecting toxins into other cells. The National Library of Medicine published a paper entitled Structural characterization of the Yersinia pestis type III by David S. Waugh Ph.D. Biochemistry that claims that the structure of Yersinia pestis is “similar in some respects to that of the bacterial flagellum.” (NCBI) Additionally, it was discovered that the Yersinia pestis “contained all of the genes needed for a flagellum, but the cells lost the ability” (Pommerville 114) to use those genes to become mobile like the flagellum. Evolutionists cite the Yersinia pestis as an example of a microorganism that refutes that the bacterial flagellum is an irreducibly complex system because the Yersinia pestis continues to function without some of the so-called necessary biological parts.
Following a similar line of argumentation molecular biologist Kenneth R. Miller claims the mousetrap is not an irreducibly complex system either. In his book Only a Theory Miller devises an experiment to create an assortment of systems that use the five structural components of the mousetrap. Miller and his students devised multiple systems such as a spitball launcher, a tie clip, a keychain, a clipboard, and a toothpick to show that other structures can be created from the mousetrap and still have a significant purpose. (Miller 56)
It is clear to see that the main modes of argumentation that the intelligent design theorists use have their flaws. First, Specific Complexity and Irreducible Complexity both claim an intelligent cause when the current state of scientific understanding is unable to explain a biological phenomenon. This form of argumentation is known as the God of the Gaps argument, which claims the presence of a divine intervention when there is unexplainable phenomenon. This argument fails when science is eventually able to explain the phenomenon. Acclaimed Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson notes that Intelligent Design theorists and creationist get their evidence for God based on “an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time moves on.” (The Science Network)
Secondly, it’s a good idea to point out that this universe was not intelligently designed from the standpoint of the human experience. The Earth is full of natural disasters like floods, tornados, and malicious diseases that continuously kill human beings. The human eye is very limited in it’s ability to perceive the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Lastly, we humans eat, breathe, and drink through the same hole, which inevitably increases our odds of mortality.
Furthermore, many of the leaders in the intelligent design movement have affiliations in religious backgrounds. William A. Dembski, the holder of two PH.D’s in Mathematics & Physics, and the author of Pro-Intelligent Design books such as The Design Revolution and Intelligent Design Uncensored is a known Evangelical Christian. Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, and the inventor of the irreducible complexity argument is a known Roman Catholic. (Groothuis, 239) Phillip E. Johnson who is noted as the ID movement’s founder is also a born-again Christian. This raises the question if there are any underlying religious motivations from the ID movement.
In conclusion, Intelligent Design should have no role in our interpretation of the true nature of reality. This is due to the logical fallacies in their main modes of argument, the criticism from the general scientific community, and the close connections their leaders have with religious groups. Darwin’s theory of Evolution is supported by evidence from microbiology, fossil records, and genetics and it provides the best lens to understand the world around us. We should not be dogmatic about Darwin’s theory though. We should always continue to ask questions, conduct experiments, and come to reasoned conclusions to see if Darwin’s theory can stand the test of time.
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Weissert, Will. "Evolution Debate Again Erupts before Texas Board of Education." NBC News. Associated Press, 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/11/22/21570645-evolution-debate-again-erupts-before-texas-board-of-education>.