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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 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 www.skeptic.com 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
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.
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