The creationist movement has changed strategies. Many of their adherents have become proponents of what is called “Intelligent Design”. Within creationist circles, the Intelligent Design movement is mostly considered a strategy to make inroads into the secular world of science. In transitioning to Intelligent Design many of its proponents accept that the Earth is billions of years old, that there is no geological evidence of a worldwide Universal Flood, and that populations of living organisms have the capacity for microevolution, which is the ability to adapt to changes in the environment.
However, although Intelligent Design proponents accept that microevolution allows organisms to adapt and develop new abilities, they disagree with the idea that microevolution can give rise to evolutionary novelty, and they employ various strategies to explain away many of the numerous examples in the scientific literature where this has been documented. One strategy is to argue that these cases of generation of evolutionary novelty represent nothing but the mere reshuffling of preexisting genetic information. This argument is somewhat baffling as it is akin to saying that a new book is not really new because it is merely a reshuffling of words already present in previous books. But because more than reshuffling is often involved as random mutations are selected that improve certain abilities, Intelligent Design proponents have also argued that a Designer created the capacity in organisms to mutate information, reshuffle it, and adapt to changes in their environment! And, of course, if all else fails, Intelligent Design proponents will argue that the novelty in question is not a real novelty, that it is only a minor change, and therefore it is not evolution but rather just merely “adaptation”.
Despite their acceptance of microevolution, the Intelligent Design movement denies that macroevolution can take place. Macroevolution is large scale changes that produce novelty like the transition from reptiles to birds, or from land dwelling animals to sea dwelling animals. Scientists tell Intelligent Design proponents that macroevolution is what you get if you let microevolution go on for millions of years, but Intelligent Design proponents disagree. A favorite Intelligent Design argument is that nobody has ever observed macroevolution. And this is obvious, of course, because macroevolution is a slow process that takes many millions of years. However, various lines of evidence including the fossil record have allowed scientists to demonstrate quite convincingly that macroevolution has indeed occurred. But, of course, Intelligent Design proponents have several clever retorts.
For example, if there are no fossil intermediates between organisms “A” and “C”, Intelligent Design proponents will point this out claiming that “C” appeared suddenly (was designed) as opposed to evolving from A. However, if a fossil intermediate is found, “B”, Intelligent Design proponents will reply that there are no intermediates between “A” and “B”, and between “B” and “C”! Nothing but the discovery of highly detailed fossils documenting gradual change between two organisms will convince them that evolution has taken place. The obvious problem with this is that such highly detailed evidence may not be possible given the dynamics of the processes of fossilization and speciation, and the sizes of the populations of organisms involved in the process. In any case, why should the intermediate be an intermediate? After all it could be a different organism that was intelligently designed and that just happened to share characteristics of the other two!
In the elaboration of their criticism of evolution, Intelligent Design proponents also argue for the premise that they call “irreducible complexity”. What this means is that complex biological structures are composed of many parts each of which is necessary for their function. Therefore, they argue, a structure will not acquire its proper function unless all components are present and functional. Thus it is impossible for these structures to have evolved by accumulating their constituent parts because the assembly of these components into non-functional structures (at least until the last component is added and the whole becomes functional) would not be selected because they confer no advantage. To illustrate this principle, Intelligent Designers select structures that leave no fossil record such as bacterial flagella (a structure that allows bacteria to propel themselves) and demand that evolutionists come up with explanations as to how they could have evolved. Evolutionists have duly responded by pointing out several ways in which bacterial flagella could have evolved from simpler structures. But Intelligent Designers are not impressed. As described in the previous paragraph, they expect exhaustive step by step descriptive explanations of how these systems evolved, and when the ones provided don’t meet their demands, they declare a win for Intelligent Design.
So we can only arrive at one conclusion. Intelligent Design has been intelligently designed! The strategy is clear. First, bite the bullet and accept some of the most obvious things like geological and astronomical evidence for an old Earth and microevolution (there will be time to come back to a literal interpretation of Genesis later). Second, concentrate your attacks on those aspects of evolutionary theory that can only be studied through fragmentary evidence, such as events that have occurred in the distant pass, or indirect evidence, such as those involving structures that leave no fossil record. Finally, demand a level of proof that is incompatible even with the best possible evidence that could be generated.
As an offshoot of creationism, Intelligent Design has been tailored to achieve one goal, and that is to discredit evolution and endow with academic respectability the notion that a designer is behind the appearance of new life forms in our world. Of course, when your ideas cannot be proven wrong even with the best possible evidence, then your ideas are not scientific, and with all of its twisting and turning around the evidence, Intelligent Design cannot hide this fact.
The image from Pixabay by sbtlneet is used here under a CC0 Creative Commons license.
In 1999 the secret “Wedge Document” was leaked to the world. This document outlined the master plan of the proponents of Intelligent Design to infiltrate the scientific establishment and make Intelligent Design a valid scientific notion worthy of being taught in school alongside the theory of evolution.
The governing goals of the plan were: “To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies”, and “To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God”.
However, the highflying expectations of the Intelligent Design movement were stopped cold by a 2005 ruling by a Pennsylvania judge that exposed Intelligent Design as nothing more than religion masquerading as science. This was the last of a string of legal defeats that creationist suffered in the United States.
One of the things that caught my attention about the Wedge Document is that creationists apparently object to materialistic explanations of how life on Earth arose and evolved. This greatly puzzles me because it is widely understood that science is incapable of any other type of explanations! And this is not due to science being co-opted by materialists who want to destroy God and religion.
Let me give you an example. Suppose you throw a bicycle in a pond that contains several fish. After a while the fish will probably swim around the bicycle, but they will definitely never ride it. Can you conclude that the fish rejected the bicycle? Of course not, because it is not in the nature of fish to ride bicycles. Following this analogy, we must understand that the whole concept of a God, or any proposal that involves theistic (related to a God) intervention, is not in the nature of science to analyze or comprehend. Science cannot elaborate hypotheses that involve divine intervention to explain what happens in the world, because they are not testable. Only materialistic explanations are testable, and here is where the problem arises.
Creationist believe that the Earth is 10,000 years old, that life on Earth appeared in one creation event involving 7 days, that there was a universal flood, and that the first man was created from clay directly by God. Of course science has found that the Earth is billions of years old, that the diversity of life on Earth did not appear in a span of 7 days, that there was no universal flood, and that humans evolved from other life forms. Creationists view these notions as an attack on their beliefs, and they are scandalized when this knowledge is taught in schools. Are scientists doing this to reject the literal creation story of the book of Genesis in the Bible, discredit theism, and impose materialism?
The answer is no. Scientists ask questions and provide answers based on the evidence. Of course, a particular answer may conflict with your beliefs, but what are scientists to do if that is where the evidence leads them? There is no ill will, no master plan to discredit theism and impose materialism, just the search for truth. There are some scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, who disavow religion and advocate exclusively for materialistic explanations regarding the origin of life and humanity, and that is their prerogative as freethinking individuals in an open society. But a large number of scientists from many cultures are believers, and they see no conflict between science and religion. However, what these scientists understand is that religious books such as the Bible should not be used as textbooks of natural history. These scientists subscribe to the maxim attributed to Galileo that the Bible teaches how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.
Science is the best method we have to find the truth about the behavior of matter and energy in the world around us. In this sense, when it comes to the natural world, science can help us in deciding what to believe or how to believe it. But science has limitations. It cannot tell us what is right or wrong, it cannot give us the guidance we seek as to the best way to live our lives from a moral and ethical point of view, it cannot provide us with values. This is the realm of religion, faith, and belief. These different areas of expertise that the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould called non-overlapping magisteria are necessary for the education of balanced human beings, and they should be kept separate. Science should be taught as science and religion should be taught as religion.
Creationist should, to quote a person whose teachings they know very well, “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's”.
The tittle page image of the Wedge Document is in the public domain.
Creationists often claim that the complexity of life in our planet is evidence of a creator. They argue that the perfection observed in the many structures that make up the bodies of organisms can only be explained by the presence of a designer. Scientists, however, have repeatedly pointed out that the design of organisms does not have to be perfect, rather just good enough to allow them to survive and reproduce. In fact, scientists have found many flaws in the design of organisms which point to them being the result of a natural process. The critics of creation science argue that if these flawed structures had been designed by a creator, said entity would indeed be a very sloppy one.
Most of the debate regarding intelligent design seems to be centered on macroscopic structures such as the eye, but what if we focus on something much smaller and more fundamental? I am talking about DNA, the molecule that carries the blueprint of life. Can we find any evidence of intelligent design in DNA? To examine this let’s look at the organization of genes. Genes are the actual segments of DNA that carry the instructions that are used to make life happen. These genes have specific functions. Some are involved in energy metabolism, others are involved in the synthesis of proteins, others are involved in the transmission of signals, and so on. So my question is: how would a creator, as opposed to a natural process, organize the genes in the DNA molecule?
To use an analogy, let’s think of a person who has 500 books and wants to place them into shelves. A reasonable person would probably organize books together by categories such as detective stories, romance, science fiction, horror and so forth. This would take a certain amount of effort and discernment. On the other hand, a sloppy or lazy person, or a person employing a random system to distribute books would probably place them in the shelves with no discernible order. Does the DNA of even a single living thing display evidence of intelligence being involved in the organization of genes in their DNA molecules?
Well, you will be surprised to know that I have found one such example! In the figure below I present the DNA of a species of bacteria (this particular bacterial DNA is circular). As you can see, as in the above analogy of the books in the shelves, the genes are neatly organized into categories. All the genes involved in DNA metabolism (in yellow) are in one area of the DNA molecule, whereas all the genes involved in making transport and binding proteins (in purple) are in another area, and the same is true for genes with other functions and even genes that we have not yet classified or whose function is unknown to us!
So there can be no question about it. Here is irrefutable evidence of intelligent design. No natural process can account for the existence of this molecule. This DNA was designed by an entity with a consciousness (and a very well developed sense of tidiness). When it comes to the process that made the DNA of this bacterial species come into being, creationists are 100% right!
Unfortunately the designer of this bacterial DNA molecule is not God but a scientist named Craigh Venter. Dr. Venter and his team were trying to design a minimal bacterial genome to study the functions of genes that are required for life, and they wanted all genes organized in discrete units that they could move around. So (much in the same way that we defragment a computer to organize all the information that ends up scattered over its memory banks) they proceeded to defragment the bacterial DNA generating the one presented above. But, how did the initial bacterial DNA look? See the original figure below.
The original DNA is in the left hand side. The seemingly random scattershot organization of its genes is not unique to this bacterial DNA. All DNAs from all species of living things sequenced so far show this lack of organization of the genetic information into any overall cohesive pattern.
So now you know how real intelligent design looks: it looks like nothing that can be found in the natural world.
Illustrations taken from the presentation From Synthetic Life to Human Longevity by Dr. Craig Venter's at the Inaugural Scientific Symposium of the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD) on June 1st, 2017. The use of these illustrations is covered under the United States Copyright Law of Fair Use (Title 17 of the United States Code, Section 107).