Today I want to look at Intelligent Design (ID) as it relate to biological systems. While Intelligent Design properly falls within the Teleological proof of God, I think as it relates to biological systems it deserves a more thorough look. The complexity of a living cell was unknown when Charles Darwin wrote On Origin of Species. In fact it was not until the latter part of the twentieth century that we discovered just how complicated each individual cell is. I wonder if Darwin had known how complex cells are, would he have still put forth his theory of evolution. My answer is probably yes as the theory was based as much on getting God out of the equation as science.
Before we start looking at Intelligent Design let’s look at what it is and is not. First despite what the critic would have us believe Intelligent Design is not creationism wrapped up in some scientific lingo. While many in the ID field are Christians, many are not and most leave the door open for a revised version of evolution. What ID is, is an attempt to explain using scientific method what appears to be design in biological systems, especially what are viewed as irreducibly complex systems or systems with specified complexity.
Darwin writes in On Origin of Species about problems with his theory that if left unexplained would falsify his theory. These problems included the lack of intermediary species in the fossil record and the ability to explain how complex system such as the eye could evolve gradually. Another problem with the theory of evolution is its inability to explain the sudden appearance of multiple new species in the fossil record such as what happened in the Cambrian explosion when of most major animal phyla suddenly appear. Darwin’s theory is based on gradualism, the slow change via mutations over long periods of time.
I will leave the lack of intermediary fossils for another post and will instead look at irreducibly complex systems. Biologists have not been able to come up with a testable hypothesis to explain how irreducibly complex biological systems can be created gradually. An irreducibly complex system is one in which if any one of the parts is missing then the system is unable to accomplish its function. The poster boy for this is the bacterial flagellum, see illustration below. In order to work as a motor, all of its parts are needed. If the flagellum were the only system that needed explaining we might just put it aside and go on, however cells have multiple systems that move things around, get rid of waste and other functions necessary for the cells function. Additionally we have the clotting function in our blood system. Not only do we need something to start the blood to clot, we need something to stop the clotting process once it is started. Without both the ability to clot a wound and then stop the clotting we would either bleed to death from a minor wound or have our whole blood supply clot once the clotting started. Neither opting is very desirable. Then we have the complex organs such as the eye. Darwin was concerned that there might not be a gradual way for an eye to develop.
The problem with gradual changes is that unless a change gives an organism some competitive advantage over the others in its species, evolution has nothing to select. Natural selection cannot plan or create; it can only select what exist at the time. That a change might be beneficial at some future time when other changes allow for a new system cannot come into play in natural selection. As Richard Dawkins said in the Blind Watchmaker, evolution is indeed blind. Being blind it cannot select for a function that does not exist.
Intelligent Design seeks to answer the question of irreducible complexity and specified complexity in a scientific manner. These are issues that evolution is either unable or unwilling to answer. All the naturalist will do is tell us just wait and at some future time all will be revealed. ID seeks to find these answers today and they increasingly point to an intelligent agent guiding life. I call this agent God.
If you have questions about the Intelligent Design movement I recommend The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design by William A. Dembski and Charles W. Colson. The authors answer the questions and challenges to ID. I also recommend Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe for those interested in exploring the subject of irreducible complexity this book is one of the first to seriously explore this subject in a scholarly manner that is still accessible to the lay person.
I am almost at the end of this series of posts. Net time I will look at the argument from need. While one of the weakest of the arguments it does pose some interesting ideas. After that I will wrap up this series. Then I hope to start a series on how I went from a confirmed believer in evolution to a skeptic.
Have a blessed day,