End Evil

Intelligent Design

Evolution?

Despite the lack of evidence in support of creationism and I.D, a Harris poll found that only 22% of Americans believe that human beings evolved from earlier species and 64% believed that they were directly created by god. A terrifying 23% said that only creationism should be taught in public schools.

On 2 August 2005, President Bush confirmed that he wanted I.D to be taught alongside evolution. The National Science Teachers Association reacted by stating that they were "stunned and disappointed that President Bush is endorsing the teaching of intelligent design -- effectively opening the door for non-scientific ideas to be taught in the nation´s science classrooms."

In Alabama, biology textbooks carry a warning that says that evolution is "a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things.....No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life´s origins should be considered as theory, not fact."

This must delight the Intelligent Design Network who glibly state on their website that "Positive evidence of design in living systems consists of the semantic, meaningful or functional nature of biological information, the lack of any known law that can explain the sequence of symbols that carry the "messages," and statistical and experimental evidence that tends to rule out chance as a plausible explanation. Other evidence challenges the adequacy of natural or material causes to explain both the origin and diversity of life."

Unfortunately, they provide no evidence to support this rather vague statement and do not refer to any studies or experiments - because there aren´t any.

Leading intelligent design proponents have made conflicting statements regarding intelligent design. In statements directed at the general public they state that intelligent design is not religious, while they state that intelligent design has its foundation in the Bible when addressing conservative Christian supporters. The Templeton Foundation, a former funder of the Discovery Institute and a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that they asked intelligent design proponents to submit proposals for actual research, but none were ever submitted.


Argument from design

This is what is known as a teleological argument (from "telos", meaning "end" or purpose and "logos" meaning "word" and by extension "theory"). It assumes that there is purpose or directive principle in the works and processes of nature and so there must be a "purposeful designer". Simply put the argument proposes that:

1/ X (life, the universe and everything) is too complex to have occurred randomly or naturally.
2/ Therefore, X must have been created by an intelligent being.
3/ God is that intelligent being.
4/ Therefore, God exists.

The first and second premises are examples of "non-sequitor logic" - the conclusion does not follow from the premise. This is well expressed in the example of the watch and the watchmaker.

1/ the watch is complex and has a purpose, and was designed by a watchmaker in order to achieve this purpose
2/ the universe is also complex and has a purpose
3/ the universe must have been created by an intelligent designer

Of course, we are assuming that we can draw a parallel between a man made object (the watch) and the universe and then proposing that because we know something about the former, we can make an assumption about the latter. Essentially for this to work, we must already assume that the universe was designed for a purpose (like the watch) otherwise we cannot compare the two. In other words, we are proposing that the universe was designed and then using this suggestion to "prove" that it was designed.

Furthermore, the intelligent designer must be at least as complex as the designed object. So who (or what) designed them? Following the assumption of the teleological argument the intelligent designer must also have been created by an intelligent designer, who in turn was created by an intelligent designer, and so on ad infinitum!

"To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. You have to say something like "God was always there", and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say "DNA was always there", or "Life was always there, and be done with it." - Richard Dawkins


Argument from ignorance

To argue that something does not exist because you cannot understand it is, to say the least, rather infantile. Bacteria existed before we had microscopes powerful enough to see them, and people were once put to death for arguing that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa. Many creationists and supporters of Intelligent Design fall back on moral arguments, suggesting (in what I consider to be a highly insulting manner) that without god there is no morality and life has no value. For them a universe which developed "by chance" is cold and unfriendly and devoid of meaning. However, it is profoundly unscientific to accept a hypothesis which cannot be supported or proved in any way just because we like the idea.

This type of argument is also known as the "god of gaps" because it invites the reviewer to reject all the other hypothesis we can think of, and then accept that the only explanation for the gaps in our knowledge is god. This is of course, purely eliminative, but is attractive to some. It is also a highly superstitious argument in the sense that it assumes that we can only understand our environment with reference to a distant and unknowable entity which somehow exists outside the system that it created. It is an acceptance of the limits of our knowledge as opposed to an attempt to expand our understanding. As such it is not surprising that while the theory of evolution has provoked experimentation, resulted in the publication of literally thousands of peer reviewed studies and stimulated the quest for knowledge, there have been no peer reviewed studies which support I.D to date.

Intelligent design, theology dressed up as scientific fact?

These arguments have resurfaced recently in the attempts to bring the theory of intelligent design in the schools in the USA as a counter to the theory of evolution. However, their proponents hide behind the apparently reasonable suggestion that they are simply "keeping an open mind" and they label evolution as "Darwinism" in an attempt to portray it as a theory which is forced on people by the scientific community.

Unfortunately, many of the supporters if I.D feign an objectivity which they do not have. They conceal their theological motivations and suggest that it is in fact the theory of evolution that is dogmatic. As Judge John Jones of the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania noted "The goal of the intelligent design movement is not to encourage critical thought, but to forment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with intelligent design.....It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."


Irreducible Complexity

Flagellum

The biochemist Michael Behe (of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, USA) rejects evolution by natural selection by stating "An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly by numerous, successive, slight modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition non-functional. .... Since natural selection can only choose systems that are already working, then if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on." To explain this argument he notes that a mousetrap includes many distinct parts, but if even one was missing the mousetrap could not work (again making a comparison with an item we know to be man-made). Of course, what he does not recognise is that although the mousetrap would not work unless all of its parts were present, the components could be used for other tasks, and so are not exactly valueless on their own. This is exactly how evolution works - by adapting systems which already exist to find new uses and new properties.

He gives a couple of examples from biochemistry which he claims support his theory.

1/ The "exquisitely coordinated mechanism" that causes blood to clot. He argues that a system with such a specific purpose could not have been developed from scratch. However, the proteins involved in this system are actually modified versions of proteins used in the digestive system. So they were not designed from scratch, but modified from an existing system. Therefore, they actually support the mechanism of evolution.
2/ Eubacterial flagellum (whip like structures which enable multicellular organisms to move around) are composed of at least thirty proteins and (according to Behe) could not possibly have been produced by an evolutionary pathway as the removal of any element would make the system unworkable. However, there is a system known as a TTSS (which enables bacteria to inject toxins through the cell membranes of their victims) which is in fact made up of the lower portion of the flagellum. In other words, the flagellum is not "irreducibly complex" as part of it can fulfil another extremely useful function. The whole system does not have to be created from scratch in order to be useful.

Incidentally, his own University have published this disclaimer regarding his theories "The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of "intelligent design." While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific." Even Bede himself noted "You can't prove intelligent design by experiment."


Specified complexity

William Dembski (a mathematician and neo-creationist) has his own version of Behe´s theories which he calls "specified complexity". He suggests that specified complex patterns can be found in living things which indicate that their development was planned and could not have happened by chance. Using the flagellum as an example, he considers the probability that the thirty proteins (which are in turn composed of up to three hundred amino acids) would come together to form such a specific mechanism. He calculates that there is a probability of 10-1170 that this would happen. This makes it hugely unlikely.

However, there are a few major flaws in his argument.

1/ His calculation assumes that the flagellum had to develop spontaneously and in its complete form - no scientist has ever proposed that the flagellum or any other complex object evolved that way, and (as previously mentioned) the existence of the TTSS confirms that this is not the case.
2/ No one ever argued that evolution dealt in bare probability. Every development is affected by the environment of the organism and the systems that have already been developed. For example, the crocodile has changed little over the last 10,000 years because it has not needed to, while species of fish that migrated into areas with very little light to avoid predators have lost the power of sight because it is no longer useful (some even have useless eyes underneath flaps of skin). Humans still have a vestigial tail at the base of the spine which no longer serves any purpose but was probably useful when we went on all fours. Yet Dembski treats all possibilities as equally likely in his calculations.
3/ His "specified complexity" is in fact the "god of gaps" theory repackaged for modern eyes.

Dembski once stated that "Christ is indispensable to any scientific theory, even if its practitioners don't have a clue about him. The pragmatics of a scientific theory can, to be sure, be pursued without recourse to Christ. But the conceptual soundness of the theory can in the end only be located in Christ."


AI

Can intelligence be developed or are the abilities of an artificial system determined by the capability of the programmer? If the universe is the product of an Intelligent Designer, intelligence must be the result of a fully planned system, not an evolved system. Thus by implication, nothing can occur which has not been planned. However, the development of Evolutionary Algorithms (a programming technique that mimics biological evolution as a problem-solving strategy) raises some interesting questions about the nature of intelligence. Randomness and selection can be used to "evolve" highly complex and adaptive structures that are not explicitly planned by a designer. Intelligence derived from randomness is essentially indistinguishable from the "innate" intelligence associated with biological organisms questioning the need to assume that intelligence was gifted to us by a designer. Furthermore, some genetic algorythms have come up with solutions so creative and powerful that they have baffled their designers!

Dembski claims that "Evolutionary algorithms are incapable of generating true complexity". Yet, Chellapilla and Fogel managed to develop an algorithm which taught itself how to play draughts. The algorithm was only told about the spatial characteristics of the board, and the position of the pieces, and then a collection of networks competed for the right to generate offspring networks. Over successive generations, the networks extracted the information necessary to improve their performance - ie the networks learned the rules and strategies that worked by natural selection. The best network then played against 165 human opponents online and gained an expert rating! This contrasts with systems such as Deep Blue (chess) where detailed knowledge of the game was programmed into a very powerful computer. Thus the algorithm "learned" while the computer merely applied the rules that it had been programmed with.


Incompetent design

Donald Wise coined the phrase "incompetent design" to emphasise that there are many examples within the natural world which do not fit the presumption of an omnipotent and perfect designer. So what happens when we discern evidence of flaws in the design? Defenders of the intelligent designer have suggested that we cannot know the plan of the designer, and it just seems inept to us. Others have tried to suggest that the good design is the work of god, and the poor design is the work of the devil, or can be attributed to our fall from grace when we were ejected from the Garden of Eden. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the designer intentionally added in the flaws to confuse us. Yes, honestly. Bill Hicks said it best -

"Does that trouble anyone here? The idea that God might be ... fucking with our heads? I have trouble sleeping with that knowledge. Some prankster God running around: "Ho ho ho. [imitates burying fossiles] We will see who believes in me now, ha ha ha. I am God, I am a prankster. I am killing Me, ho ho ho." You know, you die and go to St. Peter: "Did you believe in dinosaurs?" "Well, yeah. There were fossils everywhere. [sound of trapdoor opening] Aaah!" "You fucking idiot! Flying lizards? You´re a moron. God was fucking with you!"


Examples of pointless or flawed design

1/ The appendix in humans (which serves no purpose but can lead to the potentially fatal condition of appendicitis)
2/ "junk" DNA that are claimed not to serve any purpose.
3/ "backward-facing" photoreceptors within the retinas of many organisms, including all mammals which cause blind spots
4/ photosynthetic plants that reflect green light, even though the sun's peak output is at this wavelength. A better system of photosynthesis would use the entire solar spectrum, thus resulting in black plants.


And finally ...

Flying Spaghetti Monster

Why not instead put your faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster whose gospel was brought to the attention of the world in 2005 by Bobby Henderson. Followers of this creator god, who resembles spagetti and meatballs, call themselves Pastafarians and propose that;

1/ An invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe, starting with a mountain, trees and a "midgit" (sic).
2/ All evidence pointing towards evolution was intentionally planted by this being.
3/ Global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct consequence of the decline in numbers of pirates since the 19th Century

The satirical website Boing Boing announced a $250,000 prize (now increased to $1,000,000 by other bloggers) for any individual who could produce empirical evidence proving that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, though Jesus is not a part of, or worshipped in, Flying Spaghetti Monsterism.

However, religious strife may be brewing with the founding of SPAM (Spaghetti & Pulsar Activating Meatballs) who have called for a Holy War against FSM. They claim to have the "One True Letter to the Kansas School Board" in their possession


Posted 30 January 2006


Return to Top