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Evolution on Trial-Debating Design

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Creationism Explains Life on Earth
Benjamin D. Wiker is a senior fellow in the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a center for challenging Darwinism and developing Intelligent Design, located in Seattle, Washington. He is the author of Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists. He is a lecturer in theology and science at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

In spite of critics' claims that it is repackaged creationism—that it is religious and not scientific—the Intelligent Design (ID) movement is in fact a welcome and inevitable scientific revolution. The natural world provides abundant reasons to doubt evolutionary theory as well as abundant evidence that life on Earth was created by an intelligent designer. ID affirms microevolution (evolution that results in change in populations at the species level or smaller), which can be confirmed by science, but denies macroevolution (evolution that results in large-scale changes such as species formation), which cannot. The sudden appearance of nearly all modern living phyla during the Cambrian era (as shown in the fossil record) shows that modern life did not evolve slowly. Furthermore, the conditions necessary for the first living cells to arise would require a miracle. A designer explains these things, while evolution does not.

It may well be the most important Intellectual movement to occur in the last 200 years, if not the last half-millennium. Its roots are in the sciences, but when it reaches full flower, it may branch into nearly every discipline, from theology, philosophy, and the social sciences to history and literature, and redefine almost every aspect of culture, from morality and law to the arts.

It's the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, and it's reshaping the face of science.

The revolution began in the latter half of the 20th century as a result of discoveries in the various sciences that seemed to point to an intelligent being as the cause of nature's amazing intricacies. The aim of ID is included in its origin: the ever-deeper investigation of nature to uncover every aspect of its stunningly contrived complexity. Such complexity is the sure sign of intentional design, and the discovery and contemplation of it is also the natural delight of our intellect.

The ID movement directly contradicts the modern secularist [nonreligious] intellectual trend that has so thoroughly dominated Western culture for the last two centuries (even though this trend began 500 years ago, in the early Renaissance). Although this secularization has reached nearly every aspect of our culture, its source of authority has always been in a kind of philosophic and scientific alliance.

Evidence of a Designer

In philosophy, the secularized intellect denies the existence of any truth beyond what is humanly contrived.... The secularization of science manifests itself in the belief that nature has no need for an intelligent designer but is self-caused and self-contained. Secularized science has as its aim the reduction of apparent design, whether cosmological or biological, to the unintelligent interplay of chance and brute necessity (either the necessity of law or of the physical constituents). Since nature itself has no intrinsic order, then (by default) the human intellect is the only source of intellectual order. Secularized science thus supports secularized philosophy, and secularized philosophy functions as the articulate mouthpiece of the alliance.

The ID movement seeks to restore sanity to science, philosophy, and hence culture by investigating the possibility that nature, rather than being the result of unintelligent, purposeless forces, can only be understood as the effect of an Intelligent Designer. But again, to say that the ID revolution contradicts the claims of secularized science does not mean that the contradiction arises from some contrariety or conspiracy on the part of ID proponents. It arises from the evidence of nature itself, and the ID movement is merely pointing to the evidence nature has provided (even while, as an active mode of scientific inquiry, it seeks to uncover more). In science, it points to the growing evidence of intelligent fine tuning, both cosmological and biological, and to the various failures of secularized science to make good its claims that the order of nature can be completely reduced to unintelligent causes. As more and more evidence is gathered, secularized philosophy will be forced to confront the scientific evidence that truth is not, after all, a mere human artifact, because a designing intellect has provided the amazingly intricate beings and laws to which the scientific intellect must conform if it is truly to have scientia—a knowledge of nature. Soon enough, secularized culture will be compelled to realign.

Criticism of ID

That is not, however, the story you will hear from the critics of ID, who seek to declaw it by denying that it is, at heart, a scientific revolution. According to its most acerbic adversaries, ID is merely a religious ruse wearing a scientific facade. For philosopher Barbara Forrest, "The intelligent design movement as a whole ... really has nothing to do with science," but is rather "religious to its core ... merely the newest 'evolution' of good old-fashioned American creationism." Zoologists Matthew Brauer and Daniel Brumbaugh charge that the ID movement "is not motivated by new scientific discoveries" but "entirely by the religion and politics of a small group of academics who seek to defeat secular 'modernist naturalism' by updating previously discredited creationist approaches." The most outspoken critic of ID theory, philosopher Robert Pennock (who has published two anti-ID books), likewise asserts in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics that ID is merely a "theological movement" with a "game plan ... little different than that of the 'creation scientists'" and suspects that at the heart of the ID urge is a regrettable and benighted "tendency to anthropomorphize the world," to see design in nature only because we are designers ourselves.

As should be clear from the incessant cry of alarm—"Creationist! Creationist!"—the source of the critics' ire is that ID has dared to enter the realm of biology and raise questions concerning the near sacrosanct canons of Darwinism. (And if one starts questioning the Darwinian account of man's origin and nature, what aspect of our secularized culture could escape uprooting?) 'Tis all fine and good, they say, to investigate cosmological fine-tuning but anathema to consider biological fine-tuning. Indeed, such critics seem to think that doubting evolutionary theory's claims to have eliminated design from biology could only occur if one has either lost one's mind or placed it on an out-of-the-way shelf marked "Do Not Disturb" (the embarassing result of irrational adherence to an entirely mytho-theological account of creation). They seem—to get to the bottom of it—to agree with the words of zoologist and evolutionary spokesman laureate Richard Dawkins: "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)."

Against this, I argue not only that it is quite reasonable to have doubts about evolutionary theory, but that the rise and development of ID theory, as an antidote to Darwinism, is both intellectually welcome and historically inevitable. It is intellectually welcome because Darwinism is too small to fit the facts it claims to explain, and ID is large enough to include a modified form of Darwinism....

What ID Accepts from Darwin

What then are the most significant defects in Darwinism? Not that it has provided an account of descent with modification—that's one of its merits—but that its proposed mechanisms allowing it to eliminate intelligence as a cause are woefully insufficient. To understand this, let's return to the cosmological level.

ID theory affirms the universe to be 15 billion years old (more or less) and endorses the generally accepted account of the wonderful unfolding of stellar and planetary evolution. But it makes clear that it is the original and inherent fine-tuning that allows the unfolding to occur. ID proponents look at the wonderful and wonderfully strange history of life the same way. They do not deny many of the marvelous things that Darwinism has uncovered, and so an ID account of biology would include much of what Darwinists have discovered. What they question, however, is the Darwinian insertion that such things are explicable solely as the result of purposeless, unguided mechanisms....

If the elimination of design in biology was wrongheaded, then the mechanism by which Darwin tried to exclude it must somehow be faulty or incomplete. To that mechanism we must now turn.

The initial evidence for design-free evolution provided by Darwin is powerful, especially if one understands the particular context of belief reigning at the time of Darwin. The common belief about species at the time was that God created all the stunning varieties of plants and animals as they now appeared (and did so, a mere 6,000 years prior). Darwin effectively demolished this particular belief in the Origin by beginning with incontrovertible evidence of the malleability [the ability to be changed] of species right under the English nose. After all, he noted, we must admit that breeders of animals, through the artifice of selecting for desired traits and breeding to exaggerate them, are able to produce, in comparatively few generations, radically different looking stock. Obviously, these very different breeds were created by man and did not come, ready-made, from the hand of God.

From the example of the plasticity of breeds under domestication, Darwin then asked: "Can the principle of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply under nature?" How could it not? the reader asks himself. "Can it, then, be thought improbable," Darwin mused, that "variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should occur in the course of many successive generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind?" Yes, of course, the reader concludes, natural selection, the source of the endless varieties we find within natural species—innumerable varieties of sparrows, oodles of turtles, countless variations of snakes!

A brilliant step forward in the history of science, for which we owe Darwin a great debt. Had he stopped there, Darwin would have successfully defeated the particular belief that God had immediately created every variety of plant and animal. Of course, that small victory could not, by itself, establish the larger claim that biology was designer-free. In order to eliminate a designer completely Darwin had to make the great inferential leap from partial, legitimate insight to an all-encompassing theory, from change within limits, to unlimited change: "Slow though the process of selection may be," Darwin intoned, "if feeble man can do much by artificial selection, I can see no limit to the amount of change ... which may have been effected in the long course of time through nature's power of selection, that is by the survival of the fittest." Small changes add up to distinct varieties; with time, the varietal branches become more distinct until they rank as species; with yet more time, the changes become so pronounced that we class them as being in distinct genera, and so on, until voilà, we have the famous evolutionary tree.

What ID Rejects

The test of this great leap is, of course, whether or not what it predicts, according to its assumptions, pans out if we study nature ... for a sufficient length of time. Has everything unfolded smoothly according to the assumptions, or has Darwinism found its critical assumptions ramming into stubborn ... facts?

Where has Darwinism succeeded grandly? Exactly where it succeeded at first, in describing relatively small-scale evolution, often called microevolution. So where has it failed? In those precise places where it would need to have succeeded in order to make good on the great daring inference. We will look at two: (1) the need for a gradual appearance of the highest biological taxa [taxanomic group] and (2) the extension of design-free biology backwards to a gradual nondirected rise of the first cells from prebiological materials. Both of these are necessary to exclude ID from biology.

The sharpest rocks to dash the expectations of Darwinism were quarried in Canada at the beginning of the 20th century, and the fossils taken from this wonderful site, called the Burgess Shale, lay entirely misinterpreted for almost three-quarters of a century. They provide us with a most illuminating window into the Cambrian explosion, where, in evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould's words, "in a geological moment near the beginning of the Cambrian [about 570 million years ago], nearly all modern phyla made their first appearance, along with an even greater array of anatomical experiments that did not survive very long thereafter." This appearance is not the result of a gradual rise (through innumerable intermediate species) of increasingly more complex life leading up to the Cambrian period. Rather, in Gould's words, it occurs "with a bang" in a "geological flash" as a "gigantic burp of creativity."

Why is the Cambrian such a stick in the craw of Darwinism? Darwin's principle natura non facit saltum (nature does not make a leap) is the principle by which evolutionary theory can eliminate intelligence as a cause. How so? Intelligence, as a cause, can create elaborate order quickly and efficiently: ratio facit salta (reason does make leaps), we might well say. If the unintelligent meanderings of natural selection are to displace an Intelligent Designer, then, as Darwin realized, all big differences must be the result of the addition of countless very little differences. The sudden appearance of nearly all modern biological phyla completely contradicts the expectations of Darwin's theory. The taxonomic hierarchy in biology, from greatest difference to least, is kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. As Darwin well understood, the greater the difference, the greater the number of transitional species required, and the greater amount of time natural selection will need, working through slight variations, to produce the far greater differences characteristic of phyla. For Darwin, phyla simply cannot appear abruptly but must be the result of a long, arduous, winding path of slight variations among a discrete population leading, by natural selection, to new varieties, which in turn, lead to new species, which in turn ... and so on, until one reaches the level of divergence indicative of phyla. If Darwin were right, the fossil evidence would support him.

The sudden appearance of all known phyla in the Cambrian, therefore, represents a first-order theoretical crisis for Darwinism. For an ID approach, it indicates the presence of causal intelligence. While nature itself non facit saltum, such leaps are the hallmark of a designing intellect, especially since the phyla level acts as a kind of plan allowing for future evolutionary development (in a somewhat analogous way that fine-tuning of physical constants allows for stellar evolution).

Does that prove that ID theory has won in biology by default? No. It only proves that (1) it is reasonable to doubt that natural selection, powerful as it may be in certain domains, can displace intelligence as a cause in the origin of animal design, and more particularly, (2) it is reasonable to investigate the fossil evidence from the perspective of design....

Evolution and the Origin of Life

There are insuperable [insurmountable] problems in trying to explain, via some mode of design-free evolutionary theory, how the first cells could have arisen. Nobel laureate biochemist Francis Crick, codiscoverer of the helical structure of DNA, has even remarked, "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going." The enigma drove Crick to offer a nonevolutionary solution to the origin of life, the theory of panspermia, the belief that intelligent aliens seeded life on earth.

Others, such as Dawkins, lapse into an irrational faith in the powers of chance to avoid an ID inference. While Dawkins agrees with Crick that the origin of life is a miracle, by that he means a miracle of chance. But Dawkins believes that anything can be explained by chance, even a miracle. Speaking of a marble statue, Dawkins (with a straight face) argues that "if, by sheer coincidence, all the molecules [in the hand of the statue] just happened to move in the same direction at the same moment, the hand would move. If they then all reversed direction at the same moment the hand would move back. In this way it is possible for a marble statue to wave at us. It could happen."

Of course, one would have to be insanely wedded to materialism and have more faith in the powers of chance than any theist has in the powers of God to believe an actual waving statue was not a miracle. With this faith in the random jostling of molecules, Dawkins sees no trouble in believing (even without evidence) that a materialist miracle occurred, albeit he knows not how, allowing for the rise of the first living cells. Such faith, however, is not evidence itself but a telling lapse into a materialist credo quia absurdum est.

The Future of ID

I have spent quite a few words trying to show that the ID movement is both larger than its well-publicized and strongly criticized attempts to question Darwinism and also that it is justified in publicly and strongly criticizing Darwinism. I believe that this analysis allows us to see the merit of the work done so far by ID proponents Michael Behe and William Dembski. Behe's wonderful arguments about the irreducible complexity of biological structures (Darwin's Black Box) show clearly that biological fine-tuning is a real problem for Darwinism precisely because of the discovery of the unfathomable complexity of even the smallest biological structures. Dembski (most recently, No Free Lunch) has declared war, so to speak, on the kind of irrational reliance on chance all too characteristic of Darwinism and seen all too clearly in Dawkins. Such reliance, we recall, is rooted in the desire to eliminate the design inference in biology, and Dembski's arguments are essential to removing such irrational obstacles.

Where is the ID revolution headed? Time will tell. But it's a young movement, after all. As with all scientific and philosophical revolutions—so also with ID—one is not able to predict what this mode of scientific inquiry will discover.

Source Citation:

Wiker, Benjamin D. "Creationism Explains Life on Earth." At Issue: Creationism Versus Evolution. Ed. Eric Braun. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Hopewell Valley Central High School. 24 Sep. 2009

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