02 June 2007

Intelligent Design

On Monday 2, 2005, President Bush said Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution.

“I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,” Bush said. “You’re asking me whether or not most people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.

Statistics show nearly 90% of all Americans believe God created the world. Much talk has been made in the news recently concerning whether or not Intelligent Design (ID) should be taught as an alternative to Darwinian evolution, the theory stating natural selection caused gradual changes over time. Given the recent news to ID, it is important to evaluate its merits.

Intelligent Design. Just what is it?

ID is the view that life shows signs of having been designed by an intelligent being. It emerged from the Argument from Design.

For thousands of years, the complexity in nature has led people to believe there must be an intelligent Creator. This is the Argument from Design. The basic premise of this argument is that the world exhibits an intelligent purpose based on experience from nature such as its order, unity, and complexity. Thus, there must be an intelligent purpose and order that we can observe.

One of the best-known expressions of the Argument from Design was by the British philosopher and clergyman William Paley (1743-1805). In his book, "Natural Theology," he bases this argument on an analogy.

Suppose one was to find a watch lying on the ground. We know from human experience that the watch, with its complexity, must have been created by an intelligent designer. The same analogy applies to the universe. As with a watch, the universe exhibits complexity and order, thus it must also have an intelligent designer. Hence, watch is to watchmaker as universe is to God.

Living structures were thought to be beyond the power of physical processes operating by blind chance, thus, they must have been the "wise contrivance" of an intelligent creator.

Although his notion was sound, it never provided a rigorous standard for detecting design in nature. So when Darwin’s theory arrived, design all but vanished from biology.

With Darwin's Theory of Evolution now reigning as the dominant paradigm of the day, one would think the Argument from Design to be dead. However, the past few decades have witnessed a resurgence in the number of serious Christian scientists who hold to the belief of design in nature. This has been linked to an increase in many discoveries in science that are favorable to the Argument from Design (i.e. quantum mechanics and information content in DNA). Discoveries that have convinced many scholars, Darwin’s theory is inadequate to account for.

A new area in scientific research began emerging called Intelligent Design (ID). ID has two basic assumptions: an intelligent agent is necessary to cause the complex, information richness in biology and that these causes are empirically detectable. Empirical detectability is what sets apart ID from the design arguments of the past.

To say that something is empirically detectable is to imply there are methods based on observational features that distinguish it as being intelligently caused from being caused by undirected natural causes…i.e. Darwinian evolution. Many other sciences, such as cryptography and archaeology, have similar methods for distinguishing intelligent causes.

So how does it work?

ID looks for the existence of specified-complexity, that is, when we see a highly improbable event (complexity) with an associated identifiable pattern (specification), we recognize that event, or object, as designed.

For example, suppose I hand you a sheet of paper with the sentence.

ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME

And told you I typed it blindfolded, would you believe me?

Perhaps, perhaps not. This sentence, comprised of only two letters repeated, is a highly probable event. High probability corresponds to low complexity. The sentence fits a pattern (it’s specified), but because it is so short, one cannot say it was designed.

Now suppose I hand you an article with the sentence:

JDNXOWQPLMZNVIEW8VGHDB3764HFKDHJKDHJ

Even though the sentence is complex, it fits no recognizable pattern (it’s not specified).

I hand you a third sheet of paper with

TO BE OR NOT TO BE, THAT IS THE QUESTION.

And told you I typed it out on my computer blindfolded, you would probably not believe me.

Why? The odds are too low, for one thing. The likelihood of churning out a grammatically correct sentence in English by random is almost nil. This sentence clearly has an author. That’s specified-complexity in a nutshell.

So how does this apply to Biology?

The more biologists learn about life, especially on the microscopic level, the more it looks as if life is the product of design. In his book, “Darwin’s Black Box,” author Dr. Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University, uses the example of a bacteria’s flagellum. The flagellum is a motor bacteria use to propel themselves. Approximately 40 proteins are needed for it to work properly. If any one protein is missing, the flagellum won’t work. It takes every protein working in unison to operate. That is, if you remove one part, nothing works.

Another, non-biological, example would be the mousetrap. A mousetrap is essentially useless if any one part is missing. I suppose one could argue for its merits as a doorstop, but this is simply shirking the issue.

Behe calls this phenomenon Irreducible Complexity. Irreducible Complexity is another evidence of ID. Other Biological examples Behe mentions include the mammalian eye, the blood clotting mechanism, the immune system, and photosynthesis.

Why is it so important and how is it relevant to science?

ID differs from the Argument from Design in that ID doesn’t specify the agent of creation. Most ID theorists believe it is the God of the Bible, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be so. The main thing is that the object under investigation was designed. We can detect design without knowing what it was designed for. Furthermore, if we know something was designed, we can try to figure out its purpose. You can’t do this with evolution. ID adds another tool to a scientist’s tool chest.

3 comments:

Teresa said...

Good description of Intelligent Design. A lot of people don't know exactly what it is.

Jason said...

I'm amused to see how Slate magazine and the media in general view it as an attempt to put Creationism into schools.

kludge said...

I agree with Theresa, this is very well put. I think you did an excellent job of roughing this out in my mind.