Answers to Student’s Questions about Evolution and Intelligent Design
I was recently e-mailed by a student who is an evolutionist and skeptical of intelligent design. This student asked various questions about intelligent design, but they were honest questions from an inquiring mind. The student had many misconceptions about ID, and this is unfortunate, because in a different political environment it might be possible for such misconceptions to be dispelled by science educators. I felt it might be helpful to put these questions, along with my answers, in a post here:
You asked: “Do you think evolution exists at all?”
I reply: Yes. Every ID proponent I know acknowledges that random mutation and blind natural selection are real phenomena that can cause at least some changes within species. Moreover, they also acknowledge that species have undergone at least some degree of change in the past. ID proponents simply don’t think such random and blind processes can account for the origin of many complex biological features, like irreducible complex molecular machines, or the explosion of new body plans that appear in a geological instant during the Cambrian explosion. Also, you asked about whether I accept anti-biotic resistance (i.e. antibacterial soap) as an example of evolution. Again, every ID-proponent I know agrees that anti-biotic resistance is a real evolutionary phenomenon. But we generally observe that anti-biotic resistance typically involves trivial biochemical changes that do not explain the origin of complex biological systems. If you’d like to know more, I wrote an article about the fact of antibiotic resistance and how it does not prove that Darwinian evolution can produce complex biological changes at:
The Implications of Antibiotic and Antiviral Drug Resistance for the Power of Darwinian Evolution
I think that SUNY Professor of Neurosurgery Michael Egnor gives a good explanation of how anti-biotic resistance is a very real problem, but he shows that Darwinian evolution is not helping us to solve it or understand it:
“Microbiology tells us that bacterial populations are heterogeneous. Individual bacteria differ from one another. Molecular biology tells us that some bacteria have molecular mechanisms by which they can survive antibiotics. Molecular genetics tells us how these resistance mechanisms are passed to other bacteria and through generations of bacteria. Pharmacology helps us design new antibiotics that circumvent the bacterial defenses. What does Darwinism add to the sciences of microbiology, molecular biology, molecular genetics, and pharmacology? Darwinism tells us that antibiotic-resistant bacteria survive exposure to antibiotics because of natural selection. That is, bacteria survive antibiotics that they’re not sensitive to, so non-killed bacteria will eventually outnumber killed bacteria. That’s it.” (Michael Egnor, Quick, Nurse, Give the Patient a Tautology!)
Finally, regarding this question, you might be interested in reading Michael Behe’s book The Edge of Evolution because it acknowledges that Darwinian evolution can cause some evolutionary change but argues there are many things that it cannot evolve. I think that book will help clarify your understanding of where ID stands on these issues.
You asked: “Or do you believe that this designer created everything as it is today?”
I reply: No, I do not believe that, and I don’t know of a single ID proponent who believes that.
You asked: “Do you think an atheist can believe in Intelligent Design?”
I reply: Yes. ID proponents have been firmly consistent in explaining that ID doesn’t try to address religious questions about the identity of the designer. My personal view is that the designer is God, but that’s not a conclusion of ID, that’s my personal religious view. I know ID proponents who do not believe in God, so it seems that it is possible to accept ID but not have any particular religious viewpoint.
You asked: “Do you look down upon supporters of evolution?”
I reply: No, absolutely not. In fact, I respect Darwin greatly as a scientist because he was a good observer, a good science-writer, and was so open about the weaknesses of his theory. As Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species: “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” I respect evolutionists who disagree with my views, and I wouldn’t want anyone to be convinced of anything apart from a reasonable and civil discussion about the data. There are some evolutionists today who are willing to candidly admit weaknesses in evolutionary theory. But I wish that more modern evolutionists would deeply consider Darwin’s words.
Additionally, while an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) I worked as a research assistant in the mainstream scientific community, and I had many friends and colleagues who were evolutionists. They were intelligent people–in my view equally as gifted as the scientists I am privileged to work presently in the ID movement. In fact, many of my closest friends in college were evolutionists, and I continue to respect these people and value their friendships today.
Finally, in my experience, people in the ID movement don’t look down on people. If you’d like to see some documentation regarding what some evolutionists think about ID-proponents, you might enjoy this blog post:
Asking the Right Questions Brings out Internet Darwinists’ True Colors
You asked: “Do you really, actually, in your heart, believe in Intelligent Design?”
I reply: In my view, ID is the best scientific explanation for the origin of much biological complexity. I have outlined my views in the attached document, The Positive Case for Design, which helps explain why I believe that ID is a compelling scientific theory. You can read more about how ID interacts uses the scientific method at:
Does intelligent design theory implement the scientific method?
For me, ID is about science and so I wouldn’t say that I support ID “in my heart”–my support of ID comes more from intellectual arguments of the mind. For me, I got interested in ID because I was taking evolutionary biology courses at UCSD, and from what I was learning in class, Darwinian theory did not seem like a good explanation for much of the data. Darwin was a gifted scientist and had many groundbreaking insights. 150 years later it’s clear that his ideas explain some small-scale changes, but a huge mass of data do not support many of his grander claims regarding macroevolution, common descent, and the origin of biological complexity. I like how Robert Carroll puts it:
“Biologists have long struggled with the conceptual gap between the small-scale modifications that can be seen over the short time scale of human study and major changes in structure and ways of life over millions and tens of millions of years. Paleontologists in particular have found it difficult to accept that the slow, continuous, and progressive changes postulated by Darwin can adequately explain the major reorganizations that have occurred between dominant groups of plants and animals. Can changes in individual characters, such as the relative frequency of genes for light and dark wing color in moths adapting to industrial pollution, simply be multiplied over time to account for the origin of moths and butterflies within insects, the origin of insects from primitive arthropods, or the origin of arthropods from among primitive multicellular organisms? How can we explain the gradual evolution of entirely new structures, like the wings of bats, birds, and butterflies, when the function of a partially evolved wing is almost impossible to conceive?” (Robert Carroll, Patterns and Processes of Vertebrate Evolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
In my view, the origin of biological complexity is best explained by intelligent design, because our observation-based understanding of the world shows that such complexity comes only from intelligence. As Stephen C. Meyer puts it, “[o]ur experience-based knowledge of information-flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified complexity (especially codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source from a mind or personal agent … the highly specified hierarchical arrangements of parts in animal body plans also suggest design, again because of our experience of the kinds of features and systems that designers can and do produce.”