In any debate, it is good strategy to acknowledge your opponent’s strongest points up front, effectively taking them off the table. Critics of Intelligent Design have two strong arguments, discussed below, and virtually nothing else. Direct evidence that natural selection or any other unintelligent cause can actually do intelligent things, like design plants or animals, is nonexistent.
- The first argument is this: in every other field of science, methodological naturalism has been spectacularly successful, why should evolutionary biology be different? Evolutionary biologists understandably don’t want to be the only scientists at scientific meetings appealing to the workings of an unseen intelligent agent to explain phenomena in their field of study. When we have an approach that has worked so well on so many other problems, we need some powerful justification to switch to another paradigm to attack the problem of evolution, and it is understandable that there is so much resistance to this.But it has long been obvious to the layman that evolution is different, and requires a fundamentally different type of explanation. In recent years, a significant number of scientists have begun to recognize this also. In “A Second Look at the Second Law” I have attempted to express what is obvious to the layman in more scientific terms. A version of this argument written for a more general audience is here. I believe that this argument is the “powerful justification” needed to consider a new methodology in evolutionary biology, and shows why methodological naturalism hasn’t worked, and won’t work.
- The second argument is this: there are many things about evolution—the long periods involved, the evidence for common descent, the many evolutionary dead ends, examples of imperfect design—that simply give a strong impression of natural causes. This argument, used repeatedly by Charles Darwin himself in Origin of Species, is basically “a Creator wouldn’t do things this way.” Perhaps a more accurate way of stating the
argument is, “I wouldn’t have done things this way if I were the Creator.” But, in fact, it does look a lot like the way we humans create things now, though testing and improvements over time. In fact, the similarities actually go beyond that, as brought out in my Mathematical Intelligencer article A Mathematician’s View of Evolution and, more briefly, in this video.Many people feel silly attributing the development of each species directly to God, yet understand that a completely unintelligent process could not possibly have produced the magnificent species we see today. Darwin wrote, in a letter to Sir John Herschel, “One cannot look at this Universe with all living productions and man without believing that all have been intelligently designed; yet when I look to each individual organism, I can see no evidence of this.” This paradox has left many looking for a compromise, such as
At the end of the “Epilogue” of my Discovery Institute Press book In the Beginning… I attempted an explanation for why a Creator might indeed “do things this way.” But of course it is only speculation, and although I often find that explanation reasonable, sometimes it does not even seem convincing to me. Perhaps a more obvious explanation is, our Creator creates through testing and improvements (sometimes trying modifications that don’t work out so well) for the same reason we create this way: it is probably the only way any intelligent agent could create things. If the only other intelligent agents we have experience with cannot create perfect designs by snapping their fingers, why would we assume our Creator could do this?
I believe the evidence for design in the origin and development of life is scientific and overwhelming. Speculation as to what the designer might be like, or might have been thinking (or should have been thinking, as Darwin often argued ) is of course theology, not science. But I also have a purely scientific resolution of this paradox that I find quite satisfactory. It is simply: “evolution may leave an impression that it is an entirely natural process, but it isn’t.”