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Non-Adaptive Order and Intelligent Design

David Klinghoffer

In a series of brief interviews welcoming his new book Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis, Discovery Institute biologist Michael Denton has hammered on the “existential” challenge to Darwinism from non-adaptive order. In other words, Darwin’s theory insists on natural selection as the (mindless) sculptor of life at every step along evolution’s path.

But that process preserves only adaptive features, not abstract patterns that serve an aesthetic purpose or, to all appearances, none at all. If non-adaptive order permeates the history of life — and it seemingly does, as Denton shows in the book — that’s a huge problem for classic evolutionary thinking.

What about intelligent design? Isn’t this state of affairs in biology a contradiction for ID too? Wouldn’t a designer scrutinize his work with an eye to what adapts an organism well to its environment? Certainly, but such an intelligence might have other ends in view as well — like beauty or some alternative consideration at which we can only guess.

In this video conversation, Dr. Denton explains why his observation poses no challenge to ID. Darwinism expects to find, in biological features, adaptive value specific to a particular organism and environment, not, as in the pentadactyl limb, generic adaptation across a range of organisms.

Yes, the pattern of our limbs possesses a certain pleasing vitality or dynamic quality (that also functions well, of course), but that’s not an evolutionary criterion. Generic adaptation, on the other hand, suggests a design selected in advance of evolution, by the intelligent forethought of a designer with an artist’s eye, who could see it all before the first animal with such a feature ever existed.

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