To understand the problems with Intelligent Design,
first it is important to understand the theory it is attempting to oppose,
evolution by natural selection. The theory is this: If organisms reproduce,
offspring inherit traits from their progenitor(s), a variability of
traits exists, and the environment cannot sustain all the members of
an increasingly large population, then those members of the population
that have poorly-adapted traits (to their environment) will die out,
and those with well-adapted traits (to their environment) will prosper
(Darwin 459). Over a long period of time, this process leads to extreme
complexity, and adaptedness.
The premise of Intelligent Design is that the universe is so unimaginably
complex and perfect that it must have been created by an intelligent
designer. The classic analogy used in this argument is that of the watch
and the watchmaker. William Paley wrote in his book, Natural Theology:
"In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone,
and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer,
that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever:
nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer.
But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired
how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of
the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the
watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve
for the watch as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissible
in the second case, as in the first (1)?"
The watchmaker analogy attempts to show that just as a watch could not
come into existence by random events, neither could a human being. All
arguments for design are essentially derivatives of this argument, and
none of them succeed in lending any credibility to Intelligent Design.
Michael Behe, in his book, Darwin's Black box, puts forward an argument
for Intelligent Design which he calls "Irreducible Complexity."
In the book, Behe argues that there are certain complex systems which
cannot be explained by evolution. He compares these systems to a mousetrap:
"The first step in determining irreducible complexity is to specify
both the function of the system and all system components.
An irreducibly complex object will be composed of several parts,
all of which contribute to the function ...
"The function of a mousetrap is to immobilize a mouse so that it
can't perform such unfriendly acts as chewing through sacks of flour
or electrical cords, or leaving little reminders of its presence in
unswept corners. The mousetraps that my family uses consist of a number
of parts (Figure 2-2): (1) a flat wooden platform to act as a base [for
the attachment of the other parts]; (2) a metal hammer, which does the
actual job of crushing the little mouse; (3) a spring with extended
ends to press against the platform and the hammer when the trap is charged;
(4) a sensitive catch that releases when slight pressure is applied,
and (5) a metal holding bar that connects to the catch and holds the
hammer back when the trap is charged. (There are also assorted staples
to hold the system together).
"The second step in determining if a system is irreducibly complex
is to ask if all the components are required for function. In this example,
the answer is clearly yes ... If the wooden base were gone, there would
be no platform for attaching the other components. If the hammer were
gone, the mouse could dance all night on the platform without becoming
pinned to the wooden base. If there were no spring, the hammer and platform
would jangle loosely, and again the rodent would be unimpeded. If there
were no catch or metal holding bar, then the spring would snap the hammer
shut as soon as you let go of it; in order to use a trap like that you
would have to chase the mouse around while holding the trap open."
Behe believes that the vertebrate eye, along with several other biological
functions, is irreducibly complex. He tries to show that this is a fatal
flaw in evolution because there would be no selection pressure for the
intermediate steps in the construction of an irreducibly complex function.
While this may seem reasonable, there is a clear way around this problem.
Behe completely neglects the possibility that the eye, and other irreducibly
complex systems evolved in steps in which the function of the system
changed. In fact, Darwin anticipated this challenge in Origin of Species
and gave a reasonable explanation of how this very thing could have
happened with the eye (217).
Experiments with simulated evolution on computers have shown that Darwin's
explanation is extremely probable. In an article published in the journal
Nature, computer science researchers used a program called Avida, to
simulate the evolution of "digital organisms." Digital organisms
are pieces of computer code that replicate (Lenski et al. 139). They
have a "genome" of computer instructions, which can combine
to perform functions. They use "energy" to replicate, and
can gain energy by performing any of nine logic functions. The more
complicated a logic function was, the more energy an organism would
gain by performing it (Lenski et al. 140).
The population in the experiment started as 36,000 identical digital
organisms, which could not perform logic functions but could replicate.
Even the most simple logic function would take multiple mutations to
evolve (Lenski et al. 140). The most complicated function, EQU, appeared
in the population after 111 mutations. At mutation 110 the organism
actually lost one of its most basic functions, NAND. The researchers
found that if NAND had not been removed, EQU would not have appeared.
The researchers repeated the experiment 50 times and found that the
number of mutations needed to evolve EQU ranged from 51 to 721 (Lenski
et al. 141). Five of the 23 populations which developed EQU included
a deleterious mutation in the step prior to its evolution (Lenski et
al. 142). This demonstrates that parts of an organism can trade off
functions, even losing them for a time, while evolving more complex
and useful ones.
The EQU function depended on 35 of 60 instructions in the organism's
genome. Deleting any one of them would prevent EQU from being performed.
The researchers performed the experiment 50 more times, and found that
the number of instructions required for EQU ranged from 17 to 43 with
a median of 28. The function is clearly extremely complex and fragile.
The researchers came to several conclusions as a result of their experiments.
They found that EQU was only evolved when an organism could successfully
use simpler functions. There was great overlap in the genetic instructions
used in many different functions. Loss of simple functions was often
a side effect of gaining complex ones. In agreement with Charles Darwin,
they found that complex features evolve through the modification of
existing simpler structures. Behe's mousetrap must have had another
function while it was in the process of creating its mouse trapping
function. This seems absurd as applied to a mousetrap, but this has
more to do with the simplicity of the mouse trap, in comparison to actual
biological processes than the failure of Darwinism.
Moreover, it has been shown how many of the processes that Behe claimed
were irreducibly complex, have actually evolved. He claimed that both
bacterial flagellum and the immune system were irreducibly complex,
but it has been shown that this is not the case (Matzke; Inlay). Clearly,
irreducible complexity does not defeat Darwinism.
Another argument for intelligent design, put forward primarily by the
mathematician and philosopher William Dembsky, is the argument of "Specified
Complexity." The term Specified Complexity was used originally
by Leslie Orgel. Her definition is: "In brief, living organisms
are distinguished by their "specified" complexity. Crystals
are usually taken as the prototypes of simple well-specified structures,
because they consist of a very large number of identical molecules packed
together in a uniform way. Lumps of granite or random mixtures of polymers
are examples of structures which are complex but not specified. The
crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; the
mixtures of polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity."
Dembsky's Specified Complexity can be explained as follows. A series
of random characters such as "icmalswejd" has high complexity
but low specificity. The character string "aaaaaaaaaa," on
the other hand, has high specificity, since it has a distinct pattern,
but low complexity, because it can be compressed into "10 a's."
The sentence "I hate dogs" could be said to have specified
complexity, because it cannot be compressed, and it has a pattern, that
of the grammar and syntax of the English language (Wikipedia).
Dembsky argues that for something to be complex, it must have "multiple
possible outcomes." He says that if something can be predicted
to happen with certainty, it is not Specified Complexity. In this way
he precludes any deterministic explanation of Specified Complexity,
thus making it require some external designer by definition. Specified
Complexity essentially boils down to a tautology. The question then
becomes whether Specified Complexity, as defined by Dembsky, exists
at all. Dembsky doesn't even seem sure of this, saying "does nature
exhibit actual specified complexity? The jury is still out."
A third argument for Intelligent Design is the so-called "Fined-Tuned
Universe" argument. If certain physical constants were different,
life would not exist, it is argued. For example:
If the strong nuclear force were to have been as little as 2% stronger
(relative to the other forces), all hydrogen would have been converted
into helium. If it were 5% weaker, no helium at all would have formed
and there would be nothing but hydrogen. If the weak nuclear force were
a little stronger, supernovas could not occur, and heavy elements could
not have formed. If it were slightly weaker, only helium might have
formed. If the electromagnetic forces were stronger, all stars would
be red dwarfs, and there would be no planets. If it were a little weaker,
all stars would be very hot and short-lived. If the electron charge
were ever so slightly different, there would be no chemistry as we know
it. Carbon (12C) only just managed to form in the primal nucleosynthesis.
And so on." (McMullin 378)
If one were to go fishing and catch 50 fish, all of which were more
than ten inches long, one might reasonably make the hypothesis that
all of the fish in the lake are more than ten inches long. Someone else
might make another hypothesis, that only half the fish in the lake are
more than ten inches long. It seems obvious that the first hypothesis
is more likely. But what if, upon closer examination, it becomes clear
that the net being used to catch the fish had holes that prevented it
from catching fish smaller than ten inches, and that the fisherman left
it in the water until it had caught 50 fish? This new information must
now be incorporated into the hypothesis, causing both to have a likelihood
of one, thus preventing one from being more likely than the other.
This situation can be directly applied to the fine-tuned universe argument.
It may seem on the surface that the likelihood of a universe in which
all of the constants are right for life given an intelligent designer
is much higher than the likelihood that the constants are right given
random chance. When we add in the fact that we are here to observe the
universe, however, we find that the likelihood of a fine-tuned universe
is one either way. If we are here we must be in a universe which is
tuned to our existence. The likelihood of a fine-tuned universe given
that there is an intelligent designer and that we live in a fine tuned
universe is equal to the likelihood that we live in a fined tuned universe
given that it was created by random chance and that we live in a fine-tuned
universe. Pr(Fine-Tuned Universe | Intelligent Design & Fine-Tuned
Universe) = Pr(Fine-Tuned Universe | Chance & Fine-Tuned Universe)
This is to say that since we are here we must live in a universe fine-tuned
to our existence regardless of whether that universe was created by
an intelligent designer or by random chance. Therefore, the fine-tuned
universe argument does not, in the final analysis, promote either intelligent
design or chance (Sober).
While proponents of Intelligent Design pretend to be scientists, this
is not the case. Intelligent design does not meet the accepted standards
of the scientific community for being a scientific theory. There is
a concept in the philosophy of science of falsifiability. Karl Popper
writes of this in his book, The Logic of Scientific Discovery: "...All
the statements of empirical science (or all 'meaningful' statements)
must be capable of being finally decided, with respect to their truth
and falsity; we shall say that they must be 'conclusively decidable'.
This means that their form must be such that to verify them and to falsify
them must both be logically possible. Thus Schlick says: '...a genuine
statement must be capable of conclusive verification'; and Waismann
says still more clearly: 'If there is no possible way to determine whether
a statement is true then that statement has no meaning whatsoever. For
the meaning of a statement is the method of its verification" (17)
Intelligent Design obviously does not fit this criterion. As should
be clear by now, there is little if any evidence for Intelligent Design,
but this does not prove it to be false. It is, in fact, impossible to
prove it false. However unlikely it is that some form of intelligence
created the universe, there is no way to verify or falsify the claim.
God is invisible, we are told. He is undetectable. This is in contrast
to Darwinism, which could easily be falsified if it were shown that
some creature just appeared out of thin air, without any ancestors (though
this may be difficult to prove, it would not be impossible). Therefore,
Intelligent Design fails the test of falsifiability, and is therefore
not a valid scientific theory.
As a result, the scientific community does not take Intelligent Design
at all seriously. George Gilchrist of the National Center for Science
Education conducted a search of all the peer-reviewed scientific journals
published since the idea of Intelligent Design came about, and found
no articles supporting it. In contrast, he found many thousands of articles
So then, one might wonder, what do all of these Intelligent Design people
really want? The answer is quite clear, after taking a look at a document
titled "The Wedge Strategy," which was leaked by the Center
for the Renewal of Science and Culture, the main group supporting Intelligent
Design, and a subsidiary of the conservative Christian think-tank, the
Discovery Institute. The document starts:
"The proposition that human beings are created in the image of
God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was
built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West's
greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights,
free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.
"Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under
wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern
science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man,
thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed
humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines
who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose
behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of
biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of
reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from
politics and economics to literature and art.
"The cultural consequences of this triumph of materialism were
devastating. Materialists denied the existence of objective moral standards,
claiming that environment dictates our behavior and beliefs. Such moral
relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences,
and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science,
psychology and sociology."
Materialism, here, is a euphemism for modern science. The ironically
titled Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture wants nothing less
than the destruction of modern science. They even admit this explicitly,
saying, "Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science
and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and
its cultural legacies."
They further state:
"If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree,
our strategy is intended to function as a "wedge" that, while
relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points.
The very beginning of this strategy, the "thin edge of the wedge,"
was Phillip Johnson's critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism
on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeating Darwinism
by Opening Minds. Michael Behe's highly successful Darwin's Black Box
followed Johnson's work."
Intelligent design is primarily a Christian movement, and they admit
this as well, writing, "Alongside a focus on influential opinion-makers,
we also seek to build up a popular base of support among our natural
constituency, namely, Christians."
Just a few sentences after their admission that Intelligent Design is
a Christian movement, they say, "We will also pursue possible legal
assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory
into public school science curricula." Now it is all clear. The
intelligent design movement is an attempt to bring Creationism back
into the schools, something that has been outlawed by the Supreme Court,
due to its violation of the separation between church and state.