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© Garry Trudeau's take on education in that state.

copyright G B Trudeau

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Text: Copyright GWBAA

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Chapter Three: God the Creator?

Section 4: Intelligent design

Belief in intelligent design depends on a wilful misreading of the evidence that surrounds us.

pic: J Mol Biol

Intelligent design (ID) is the theory that some phenomena in nature could not evolved through natural selection (see next section) but must have been designed by an intelligent - and supranatural - entity.

ID is based on the supposed principle of irreducible complexity - the idea that components of organisms such as the bacterial flagellum (the rotor-like mechanism that permits a bacterium to move - pictured above*) could not have existed in preliminary or intermediary stages.

The basic argument for ID is therefore:
• complex organisms cannot have evolved
• therefore they were designed
• therefore there is a supranatural designer.
Proponents of ID make a point of not referring to the designer as God, but many believers use ID as part of their argument to support their contention that God exists.

3.4a Intelligent design and creationism

ID makes no reference to the Bible and is not bound by the Biblical version of Creation or other events such as the Flood. Some

Explaining the Universe

Jews, Christians and Muslims insist that God created the universe. In both philosophical and practical terms, however, that theory turns out to be unsustainable.

3.1: God the Created?
Where did God come from?

3.2: The balanced universe
Improbable is not impossible

3.3: Creationism
Holes in Noah's Ark

3.4: Intelligent design
False assumptions and faulty reasoning

3.5: Evolution
Reproduction, mutation and environment

3.6: Summary

Finished this chapter? Move on to

Chapter 4
Why people believe

If God does not exist, why do so many people believe in him?

There are many reasons, from the strength of community to fear of death.

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creationists use ID to bolster their case, but this is irrelevant since, as we have seen (previous section) the case for creationism is irredeemably flawed.

3.4b Intelligent design and science

Science is a system of acquiring knowledge; its core tenet is predictability - any scientific theory (= fact in non-scientific terms) must be able to predict outcomes. (For more on the definition of science, see here.) While many proponents of ID claim that their studies are science, under pressure they admit that ID cannot be considered science in the generally accepted view of the world. (Following the testimony of Michael Behe, a leading proponent of ID, at the 2005 trial in Dover, PA, USA on the teaching of Intelligent Design in a Pennsylvanian school (as detailed here), the court concluded that ID had no scientific basis.)

3.4c Irreducible complexity?

Irrespective of its status as a science, ID might have a strong case if its central tenet - irreducible complexity (IC) - proved true. The problem for ID is that IC is elusive. Each time it is examined closely, it disappears.

Take the example of the eye, which we looked at briefly in the previous section. Proponents of ID used to point that the eye was too complex to have evolved: they said there could be no intermediate stages between a non-functioning and a functioning eye. However, this argument has long been put to rest. Here is a simple description as to how the human eye probably evolved. (The general principles of evolution are discussed in the next section.)

The human eye started out as light-sensitive tissue (similar to sensitive skin which tans in sunlight), allowing the primitive organism to distinguish light from shadow. That in itself was a key advantage in identifying and escaping from possible predators. Over time (perhaps millions of years) a transparent membrane developed to protect those cells from damage. That membrane became thicker in the middle, allowing light to focus. There, in a nutshell, is pic:
the primitive eye of humans and other primates. It continued to evolve as each new development - the ability to distinguish colour and switch focus - gave the organism an increased advantage to survive in its environment.

The primate eye is only one of many eyes that have evolved over millions of years, sometimes on very different principles - compare, for example, insect eyes, which may have up to 30,000 lenses (we have only one) or octopus eyes, which are similar to human eyes except they do not have the problems of blind spots or blood vessels diffusing light which affect our vision.

The eye is no longer considered irreducibly complex and is therefore no longer used as "proof" of Intelligent Design. When the eye fell out of favour, the bacterial flagellum was put forward as an example of IC. The flagellum is a rotor-like "motor" which allows some bacteria to move. As Michael Behe points out in his 1996 book Darwin's Black Box, apparently simple structures like bacterial cilia and flagella are of staggering complexity, with dozens or even hundreds of precisely tailored parts. There is no way, Behe argues, that such parts could have come together through natural selection. The irreducible complexity of the flagellum is proof of an intelligent designer.

Unfortunately for Behe's argument, in 2005 he conceded at the Dover Trial mentioned above, that the flagellum could indeed have evolved. (For more information read and this Wikipedia article. Interestingly, Kenneth Miller, a leading biologist who has demonstrated how the flagellum may have evolved, is a practising Christian.)

A third example is blood. Michael Behe (again!) argues that the ability of blood to clot involves a complex biochemical process that could not have evolved through natural selection. Kenneth Miller (again!) demonstrates that Behe is wrong. For the proof, check this Miller lecture on YouTube.

3.4d We don't - yet - know

It is disappointing for proponents of ID that each example they put forward is as irreducibly complex turns out to have an evolutionary past. It is also unfortunate that, for a discipline that claims to explain such an important subject as the origins of lifeforms, ID has so few examples to support its case. But let us suppose, for that proponents of ID do come up with an example of complexity that cannot be explained by current evolutionary theory. Does that prove the existence of a supranatural Designer?

No, it doesn't.

Why not? Because ID depends on the appearance of irreducible complexity - and on misinterpreting that appearance. Compare two responses to the statement that a phenomenon appears irreducibly complex:

a. the phenomenon is irreducibly complex - therefore it was designed - therefore
    God exists
b. we do not - yet - have sufficient knowledge to demonstrate how the
    phenomenon could have evolved

Again and again ID jumps to conclusion a - and each time it is proved wrong it falls back on another example and immediately jumps to conclusion a again. This suggests an emotional, and not a reasoned, approach to research. "The facts don't fit our conclusion? Then we'll have to find more amenable facts."

Besides, proponents of ID must not only prove irreducible complexity, but they must also define and describe, within scientific method, the nature and mechanisms of the supranatural designer. And this is something they steadfastly refuse to do.

Not only is the case for ID weak, but the argument against a designer is strong. Many phenomena in nature suggest that the designer, if s/he exists, is relatively unskilled and / or has given little thought to their creation. Among the questions that proponents of ID have yet to answer:

• why are there so many different designs for the eye? Why do some species,
   such as primates, have much less efficient eyes than other species, such as
• why is there considerable variation among some types of animals, such as
   insects and birds, and relatively little variation among other types, such as
• what is the nature of the Designer? what are his / her limits of design?
• how does the Designer implement his / her designs?
• why would a Designer design people who question Intelligent Design?
• why do men have nipples? if their only function is to provide sexual pleasure,
   why did the designer fail women by placing the clitoris outside the vagina?

Some of these points appear frivolous, but they are intended seriously. Any theory of the origins of life must be able to explain all related phenomena, including the nature of the designer and all aspects of the design. It is intellectually dishonest to say that ID theory need go no further than claim irreducible complexity for some phenomena in nature.

Real science starts not with the answer - "the designer did it" - but with the question - "where did this come from?" As an explanation for the origins of some lifeforms, ID has a superficial attraction but, because it depends on false assumptions and faulty reasoning, it fails the test of scientific method.

* Composite electron micrograph of flagella obtained by a superposition of photographs
   shot from various angles of a number of flagella. From Francis, N. R., Sosinsky, G. E.,
   Thomas, D. and DeRosier, D. J., 1994. “Isolation, characterization and structure of
   bacterial flagellar motors containing the switch complex.” J Mol Biol. 235 (4), 1261–1270.

Chapter Three: Section 5 Evolution

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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