Intelligent Design and Evolution
It is important to say that Intelligent design (ID) does not completely dismiss evolutionary processes. ID is about the deep design inherent in the universe whereas evolution is essentially a theory about the mechanisms by which living things develop. They deal, therefore, with quite significantly different aspects of origins.
However, there are two areas in which ID and evolution collide. The first is the implication of Neo-Darwinism that life is essentially the result of blind and undirected processes. ID maintains that the science points to deliberate design and discernible intelligence in the natural and living worlds. The second is the claim that random mutation and natural selection can account for the generation of greater genetic complexity over time. ID questions whether there is sufficient evidence that such a mechanism is capable of doing what is claimed.
In any serious discussion of evolution, it is important to know which meaning of ‘evolution’ is being used. In fact, there are two major and quite different uses of the term ‘evolution’.
The first use of the term ‘evolution’ is what Darwin discovered in the 19th century and essentially refers to the ability of living things to adapt to their environment. Darwin noticed that Nature is able to do what plant and animal breeders have done for centuries. It is clearly possible to breed living things selectively to obtain the particular form that you want. You might want white horses or purple tulips and breeders can select those strains that are most likely to produce the required result.
That Nature can do the same thing is hardly surprising. Natural selection means simply that, by a process of eliminating forms of life which are not suited to a particular environment, living things with specific characteristics survive while the others die. So, for example, birds with short tough beaks will survive if the only available food is nuts with hard shells. Those birds with long slender beaks don’t have a chance of surviving. They might, though, if the only available food is soft worms which live 2 inches below the surface of sand. In that case, the birds with the short beaks have no chance of survival.
This form of evolution – sometimes called ‘microevolution’ – might be better described as ‘adaptation’. It really depends on the wide variety of forms of any species which can be produced by the DNA of the species. Natural selection is simply picking out those forms that can best survive in a given environment.
The critical process here is that the wide range of genetic information is significantly narrowed to retain only the desired characteristics. In technical terms we say that the ‘gene pool’ (ie the total amount of information carried in the DNA of a species) has been reduced by the elimination of those forms of the species which have characteristics which are undesirable.
It is the second use of the term ‘evolution’ which is much more contentious. In this case it is argued that by a process of random mutation of the information in DNA and natural selection of any beneficial result produced in the form of the living organism, it is possible to increase the complexity of living things. And this is not just a modest claim. The contemporary neo-Darwinian view is that random mutation and natural selection can take us, in an unplanned and undirected process, from a single cell to a human being, via all the other living things in between. This is often referred to as ‘macroevolution’.
Such a breath-taking proposition, which is widely and uncritically accepted in Western culture, requires clear proof that there is a mechanism of such creative power. The reality is that the ‘mountain’ of evidence for evolution is almost entirely about the first type of evolution or adaptation. The evidence for the second version is flimsy in the extreme.
There is a huge inconsistency here. Microevolution necessarily involves an overall reduction in the amount of genetic information. That the evidence for microevolution is used to prove the exact opposite – increasing the complexity of genetic information – is quite bizarre.
We now know that the genetic information carried in the DNA of every living cell is hugely complex. To suggest that such complexity can be generated by random and undirected processes is a bit like saying that computer software can be generated by letting the wind and rain blow though the laboratories where they are produced. We know that software programmes depend on computer engineers for their design, not on the vagaries of the weather!
Michael Behe, a biochemist and Professor of Biological Science at Lehigh University, Penn, USA, in p83 of his recent book, ‘The Edge of Evolution’ puts it like this:
‘But, although Darwin hoped otherwise, random variation doesn’t explain the most basic features of biology. It doesn’t explain the elegant sophisticated molecular machinery that under girds life. To account for that - and to account for the root and thick branches of the tree of common descent – multiple coherent genetic mutations are needed. Now that we know what sort of mutations can happen to DNA, and what random changes can produce, we can begin to do the math to find the edge of evolution with some precision. What we’ll discover is something quite basic, yet heresy to Darwinists: Most mutations that build the great structures of life must have been non-random.’
Overall, ID argues that, while evolution may contain some of the elements which have produced the variety of living things, it is impossible to conceive of any process for generating the complexity of genetic information which does not involve prior intelligence and design.
And after that we need to find credible explanations for the emergence of life in the first place and, in addition, how consciousness exists within our neurobiology. These are clearly not trivial matters!
Dr Alastair Noble
Director of the Centre for Intelligent Design UK
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