Many materialists are confused about the obsession of ID’ers with Darwinian evolution. They believe that our targeting of Darwin is misguided for the simple reason that showing that Darwin is wrong doesn’t make us correct. On the simple face of it that is correct—showing that X is false doesn’t make Y true.
However, the story of Darwin and design is deeper than that, and to understand why ID’ers target Darwin you have to understand more of the story. For the next two paragraphs, if you are a Darwinist, set that to the side for a moment to at least understand where the ID’er is coming from.
To an ID’er, the biological world screams design. That is, nearly every thing in our bodies and in the world serves some purpose. If there is an organ, you can bet it is there to serve a purpose. Organisms themselves serve purposes in the larger environment. Everything in biology is endowed with purposive intent. In fact, even the problems make the purpose stand out more clearly. We can tell that cancer is bad because it does not line up with the purposes of our body. We can see and understand everything in terms of purpose.
Additionally, these purposes are carried out utilizing stunning machinery at every level. You can see it in the gross anatomy. Organisms are built with logically distinct systems serving the organisms purpose. You can see it all the way down to the molecular biology. Each cell comes equipped with tiny organelles which work together to keep the cell running, and each of these are very precise machines.
This is the starting point—the starting evidence. It is true that it is not quantitative. However, most observations that you can make about an organism screams for purpose and design. While there are many intricate, purposive systems built by intelligent agents, we have never seen it occur in the absence of agency. Therefore, being surrounded by intricate, purposive systems, we infer that there is some sort of agent behind it. So why don’t people believe in design in biology?
It used to be that design was the default assumption in biology, for these very reasons. The innovation that Darwin had was that there was another way to account for all of this purpose and design in biology. Darwin proposed natural selection as a way to get purpose and design entirely through purposeless, material causes.
So, abstractly, the old argument was like this:
Y can only be caused by X; we see Y, therefore X.
The Darwinian logic was:
Oh, wait a minute there, Y can also be caused by Q; therefore, when we see Y, it *might* by X, but it could also be Q.
Further along intellectual history, X was ruled out as a possible cause. This made the logic become:
Y can be caused by either Q or X. However, we are not allowed to consider X. Therefore, we see Y, and can only conclude Q.
So, hopefully you can now see why ID focuses on the defeat of Q. The entirety of the living world already gives evidence of X. We could add more (as Behe has often done), but it is largely unnecessary, simply because of the overwhelming evidence of X. If Q is shown to be wrong, then the methodological assertion against X is shown to be ridiculous, and people can return to concluding X from the massive amount of evidence that is simply everywhere we look.
This is why Dawkins said, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” He provided a defeater for the obvious conclusion. If the defeater is out of the way, then making the obvious conclusion is, well, obvious.
Additional note – some may wonder about the many purported “other mechanisms” of evolution. I have found that pretty much all suggested mechanisms fall into two categories. (1) a Darwinian mechanism, but which is more specific. That is, some may talk about all sorts of potential mutations, and categorize them. For example, Allen McNeil has such a list. As far as I’m aware, McNeil suggests no teleological or teleonomic directionality in any of these mechanisms, which is precisely what is meant by “random mutation” – mutations lacking in directionality. Therefore, this post (and any post on random mutation and natural selection) applies equivalently to these mechanisms. (2) Non-Darwinian mechanisms. These are mechanisms where either (a) the organism has sufficient knowledge/agency to construct its own destination (i.e., Natural Genetic Engineering or the Implicit Genome), or (b) evolution presupposes a huge amount of existing information in the genome ahead-of-time (evo-devo). These can be wrapped up in the broader term evolutionary teleonomy. These mechanisms, like all the other biological mechanisms, are expressions of purpose. While they may or may not undermine specific views of natural *history*, they do nothing at all to undermine the general view of purpose and design in nature. They merely move the design back, which, mathematically, makes the amount of design required bigger, not smaller.