A couple of days ago I received the following email from a student in France:
Hello,First of all, please excuse my poor English (I am a French native). I am currently writing an essay in epistemology with two of my co- students (I’m in second year of M.Sc in research, specialized in Evolutive Ecology and Epidemiology of Host-Parasites relationships), in which we focus on the gloabl acceptance by society of different models to explain evolution. More than the models (we choose the “original” theory of Charles Darwin, the transformist theory of Lamarck, the “balanced equilibrium” theory of Stephen Jay-Gould, and the more recent Intelligent Design), we are interested in the people who believe in them.I contact you because the blog “Uncommon descent” states you as a friend of them. This blog is well known in France as one of the main information stream on Intelligent Design. My question is: how do you comme to trust in Intelligent Design? What do you think to be the most important flaws in the modern theories describing the course of evolution?
I hope you will find some time to answer me,
How would you respond to Mr. X’s inquiry. My stab at a response is below.
Dear Mr. X,I am writing to respond to your email of September 27, 2007. You ask two questions: (1) How do you come to trust in Intelligent Design? and (2) What do you think to be the most important flaws in the modern theories describing the course of evolution? I will answer the questions in reverse order.
Question 2. Darwinism’s flaws include:
A. Specified Complex Information. DNA is an information code of staggering complexity and elegance. We know that complex specific information of this sort is not normally generated though unguided mindless natural processes. When we see complex information in other contexts (think of Mount Rushmore), we are compelled to assume that the cause of the information was intelligent agency. The Darwinist, on the other hand, is compelled to “explain away” what everyone would concede is initially the most probable explanation.
Dawkins writes: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (New York; Norton, 1986), 1.
Darwinists attempt to explain this complex information by resorting to the “numerous monkeys typing” randomness. In other words, the theory goes, if you have enough monkeys pounding on enough typewriters, sooner or later they will pound out the works of Shakespeare. We now know, thanks largely to the work of scholars like William Dembski, that appeals to randomness of this sort are mathematically unsound given the limits on probabilistic resources set by the apparent age of the universe.
Darwinists themselves are beginning to recognize this conundrum and some have attempted to solve it by substituting “large number of monkeys” with “infinite monkeys.” They do this by positing a “multiverse theory” of infinite universes. But this is a double-edged sword for the Darwinist. On the one hand, “infinite monkeys” does in fact get one to the generation of complex specified information by random means. On the other hand, the multiverse theory is not testable or falsifiable. It is not science; it is metaphysics, philosophy or, dare I say, religion. Multiverse theory also violates the elementary principle of scientific inquiry known as “parsimony,” which states that, other things being equal, the simplest explanation is to be preferred. I ask you, which is the most parsimonious theory: infinite universes or one designer?
B. Origin of Life Problem. Darwinists do not even have plausible speculations about how life began in the first place. In fairness, Darwinism, by definition, cannot begin until life has already begun and a self-replicating system is in place. But simply waving one’s hands and assuming a problem away is like assuming away the elephant sitting in the living room.
“Research on the origin of life seems to be unique in that the conclusion has already been authoritatively accepted . . . What remains to be done is to find the scenarios which describe the detailed mechanisms and processes by which this happened. One must conclude that, contrary to the established and current wisdom a scenario describing the genesis of life on earth by chance and natural causes which can be accepted on the basis of fact and not faith has not yet been written.” Hubert Yockey, “A Calculation of the Probability of Spontaneous Biogenesis by Information Theory,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 67 (1977): 379, 396, 377-98.
C. Irreducible Complexity. Michael Behe’s work on irreducible complexity is compelling. Various Darwinist’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding, no detailed Darwinian account of the evolution of irreducibly complex systems such as the bacterial flagellum have ever been proposed.
D. The Edge of Evolution. Once again, Behe’s work appears to be unanswerable (at least it has not been answered). Over millions of generations natural selection has been able to produce only very modest changes in the malaria parasite. Thus, the hard irrefutable “facts on the ground” suggest that natural selection is simply insufficient to account for substantial changes to organisms.
E. The Fossil Record.
One need not be a creationist or an ID proponent to understand that the fossil record does not support Darwinist gradualism: “Darwin’s prediction of rampant, albeit gradual, change affecting all lineages through time is refuted. The record is there, and the record speaks for tremendous anatomical conservatism. Change in the manner Darwin expected is just not found in the fossil record.” Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall, The Myth of Human Evolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 45-46.
Thus, some Darwinists say that gradualism is falsified by the evidence. But others say that gradualism is the very essence of the theory.
“Darwin’s own bulldog, Huxley, as Eldredge reminds us yet again, warned him against his insistent gradualism, but Darwin had good reason. His theory was largely aimed at replacing creationism as an explanation of how living complexity could arise out of simplicity. Complexity cannot spring up in a single stroke of chance: that would be like hitting upon the combination number that opens a bank vault. But a whole series of tiny chance steps, if non-randomly selected, can build up almost limitless complexity of adaptation. It is as though the vault’s door were to open another chink every time the number on the dials moved a little closer to the winning number. Gradualness is of the essence. In the context of the fight against creationism, gradualism is more or less synonymous with evolution itself. If you throw out gradualness you throw out the very thing that makes evolution more plausible than creation. Creation is a special case of saltation – the saltus is the large jump from nothing to fully formed modern life. When you think of what Darwin was fighting against, is it any wonder that he continually returned to the theme of slow, gradual, step-by-step change?”
Richard Dawkins, “What Was All the Fuss About?” review of Time Frames: The Rethinking of Darwinian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibria by Niles Eldredge, Nature 316 (August 1985): 683-684 (emphasis added).
In summary, Darwinist Dawkins says gradualism is absolutely necessary for the theory to be true, and Darwinists Eldredge and Tattersall say gradualism is falsified. Thus, I conclude – based on the statements of the Darwinists themselves – that Darwinism is falsified.
I do not “trust” in the theory of Intelligent Design. Of the competing models purporting to explain the astonishing diversity and complexity of life, ID is by far the most plausible to me. Darwinism truly is the best theory of evolution by mindless unguided natural forces. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine such a theory that does not in some way look like Darwinism. The only other explanation on the table is intelligent design. Thus, evidence disconfirming Darwinism tends to support ID. Therefore, the answer to question 1 is to some extent the flip side of question 2. This is not to say that the data does not support ID affirmatively. It does. For example, when dealing with complex specified information, ID is the obvious inference to the best explanation.
Finally, I suspect Darwinism because it is clear that it is held by many Darwinists on religious, not scientific, grounds not because of the evidence but in the very teeth of the evidence.
“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” review of The Demon- Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan, The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, 30-31.
I do not accept Dr. Lewontin’s religious views; therefore, there is no reason for me to accept any conclusion of his that is compelled by those religious views instead of the evidence on the ground.