Intelligent Design, Part I
by Justin Hart

“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.” (Origin of Species, 6th ed. (1988), p. 154) – Darwin

It’s understandable that there exists a theological debate among differing religious views.  After all, religious understanding and belief derives its momentum from faith-driven exercises rather than hard empirical evidence.  But one would expect scientific debate to avoid such quibbles and disagreements in light of their own scientific method, which does derive its momentum from hard empirical evidence.  Unfortunately, science is overseen by humans, and the same biases, institutionalized thinking, and raw power involved with any human venture are also present in science. 

One debate, looming large on the horizon, pits the “high priests” of evolution against the proponents of “intelligent design.”  In this article I examine Intelligent Design and its claims against evolution.

Intelligent Design
In 1802, William Paley penned his famous pocketwatch analogy.  To wit, if we find a pocketwatch in the desert we assume that some human hand was involved and that the watch did not materialize through some blind natural process.  The analogy here is that the complexity of nature points to an intelligent designing force. 

This was the prevailing scientific view until Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859.  The evidence that Darwin asserted took the scientific community by storm and evolution has been the prevailing modus operandi since that day.

Evolutionary biology teaches that all biological complexity is “the result of material mechanisms.”  In short, evolution claims that all things came into existence by means of natural selection and mutation, in minute “baby steps” of progression over millions of years.  Organisms adapt for conditions adding to their functionality piece by piece until we are what we are today. 

We should note here that no one doubts natural selection as a robust scientific theory.  For example, a desert fox has developed longer ears over time to help expel heat from his body.  If this were all that evolution purports, everyone would go home happy.  Instead the debate turns on Darwin’s theory that all species evolved from a handful of previous species.  Intelligent Design is a growing scientific movement that challenges Darwin and his naturalistic legacy.

Intelligent Design derives its impetus from systems that are “irreducibly complex.”  Here’s a common analogy that’s used to explain the theory. 

An everyday example of an irreducibly complex system is the humble mousetrap. It consists of (1) a flat wooden platform or base; (2) a metal hammer, which crushes the mouse; (3) a spring with extended ends to power the hammer; (4) a catch that releases the spring; and (5) a metal bar that connects to the catch and holds the hammer back. You can’t catch a mouse with just a platform, then add a spring and catch a few more mice, then add a holding bar and catch a few more. All the pieces have to be in place before you catch any mice. [1]

According to evolution, you should be able to reduce every biological system, piece by piece, down to its beginning.  Evolution then could not be the scientific origin of the mouse trap, there must have been some intelligent hand involved.  As Darwin admits in our opening quote, if you can demonstrate a complex biological system along the same line of reasoning, then his theory would break down.

Bacterium Flagellum
The question then is this: Are there biological systems that exhibit such complexity?  One prominent example is that of bacterium flagellum.  Bacterium flagellum are whip-like appendages that move bacteria throughout our body.  These flagellum work very much like a motor; each has a rotor, a stator, O-rings, bushings, and a drive shaft.  They are powered by the combination of 50 different proteins.  These proteins exist independently within the human body and come together to power the flagellum.  Take one of these proteins away, and the flagellum fails to operate.  The mathematical probability of these 50 proteins coming together under the theory of evolution is so outrageous as to almost insist that there was some higher power involved.  

Plasmids are circular pieces of DNA that can easily be exchanged among bacteria.  Plasmids can also confer antibiotic resistance.  When one bacterium releases a plasmid, another can absorb it, information from the Plasmid is infused from one into the other.  The problem begins when we ask “where did the bacterium that released the plasmid information in turn derive it?”  Any evolutionary explanation will be circular reasoning and insufficient to explain the matter.

Eukaryotic Cells
Michael Behe, one of the major proponents of intelligent design explains another example:

Another example of irreducible complexity is the system that allows proteins to reach the appropriate subcellular compartments. In the eukaryotic cell there are a number of places where specialized tasks, such as digestion of nutrients and excretion of wastes, take place. Proteins are synthesized outside these compartments and can reach their proper destinations only with the help of “signal” chemicals that turn other reactions on and off at the appropriate times. This constant, regulated traffic flow in the cell comprises another remarkably complex, irreducible system. All parts must function in synchrony or the system breaks down. [2]

Blood Clotting
The system that prevents our blood from clotting is yet another example.  Blood clotting consists of a complex cascade of enzymes and cofactors which must be in place to work.  The evolutionist’s rebuttal to this is that blood clotting experiments on mice have removed certain enzymes successfully.  The Intelligent Design (ID) response is that the mice in the experiment were detrimentally affected by the reduced enzymes; which flies in the face of another evolutionary postulate: the mutated change in an organism must benefit the organism (survival of the fittest after all).

People, Places and Theories
There are a number of prominent players currently working on ID.  Here are a few bios and links that you can peruse:

Philip E. Johnson, is a graduate of Harward and the University of Chicago. He was a law clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren and has taught law for over twenty years at the University of California at Berkeley.

Johnson’s most prominent contribution has been Darwin on Trial which examines Evolution from a standpoint of sound reasoning and scientific support.

Michael Behe received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978, is a professor of biological sciences at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University. His current research involves the roles of design and natural selection in building protein structure. His book Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution is available in paperback (Touchstone Books, 1998).

Behe is one of primary proponents of ID.  His book has been the focus of many of the evolutionist’s rebuttal.  Behe has been lambasted and harangued for his viewpoints and his responses are mostly ignored by peer publications.  Hmm. sounds like a familiar brick wall.

William A. Dembski,  holds Ph.D.’s in mathematics and philosophy, is an associate research professor at Baylor University and a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute in Seattle. His books include The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities (Cambridge University Press, 1998) and No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001). links

Dembski is known as the Isaac Newton of ID.  He has taken informational mathematics to calculate the probability of irreducibly complex biological systems.  He has also brought an historical perspective to the movement demonstrating how evolution failed to adequately dismiss British natural theology.

Jonathan Wells received two Ph.D.’s, one in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and one in religious studies from Yale University. He has worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and has taught biology at California State University, Hayward. Wells is also the author of Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong (Regnery Publishing, 2000).

Wells’ book has approached ID from an attack vantage point.  He details 10 major flaws within evolution and shows how many supposed supports of evolution are nearly fraudulent but are still taught in our schools.  Wells has been at the front of a debate in Ohio which is considering whether or not to allow ID to be taught as an alternative to evolution.

We should note that Intelligent Design is a theory just like Evolution is a theory. The debate between the parties is raging on and may eventaully reach a fervent pitch. Currently, several school boards across the country are examing its validity to determine if they should allow it to be taught in schools. Intelligent Design is an exciting venture for us to examine.  In the coming months I will report on several books, theories and debates on the issue. 

1. Intelligent Design a special report reprinted from Natural History magazine

2. Ibid.

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