A Friendly Critique of the Intelligent Design Movement Thus Far

I have long been a fan, and sometimes a minor participant [1], in the Science Wars currently underway between the beleaguered supporters of undirected naturalistic evolutionary processes and the increasingly confident supporters of Intelligent Design. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the previous literature on Intelligent Design has focused on either negative or defensive aims. For example, to demonstrate the insufficiency of Darwinian evolution to explain the presence of information in DNA or the development of irreducibly complex features (e.g. the flagellum) or that every expectation of Darwinists in the last 151 years for the existence of fossils to show gradual change between species has been frustrated is not a particularly difficult task. Neither is it a difficult task to demonstrate the viability of the design option as a scientifically valid procedure. Nonetheless, these two tasks have taken up the vast majority of focus among ID Theorists (whose books I greatly enjoy reading) to date. This is a necessary task, but not a sufficient one.

It is my fervent desire that in the ID movement we move beyond such necessary but unsatisfying tasks and move towards the demonstration of positive research questions prompted by Intelligent Design in biology as well as other fields. If, as is increasingly likely, ID is the only scientific solution that can account for life as we know it, then it has implications in many areas. By understanding the design of life in greater detail and scope, we may expect to find rich lessons that apply in areas such as a biologist. As someone whose background is not in biology I welcome that. It is my intention in the remainder of this short essay to describe some of the positive research lines that we may expect to find in Intelligent Design, and evidence of what sort of ID work I would like to see more of.

It is a common response among frustrated evolutionists to use such examples of the panda’s thumb as evidence of evolution because a panda’s thumb is non-opposable and therefore less efficient at our own for grasping and manipulating objects. However, if the Creator co-designed pandas to live in bamboo rich areas where the panda’s thumb serves as an efficient means of stripping bamboo stalks, then it would be evidence that the Creator of life designed species not in isolation, but to live in specific habitats in harmony with a variety of other species. We would therefore expect that if the Creator engaged in whole-habitat design that species which were placed in an improper habitat would behave in threatening and hostile ways, rather than in the beautiful ways they behave in their proper environment. This has obvious implications far outside of biology for the importance of place and relationships in the regulation of behavior, and seem particularly well-suited to analogies of human behavior.

Likewise, we should expect, in a world intelligently designed, for homologous features to exist in species that are far apart in classification, as evidence of “modular design” of species with the same features. For example, recent research on the identical mutations in bats and dolphins that allow for echolocation is a strong indicator of an echolocation design module that provides all of the necessary genetic and structural features for echolocation to exist in a species. One might therefore expect to see other examples of this feature, where species frequently possessed homologous genes based on their biological roles in a habitat rather than based on their putative origin. This is an area of research that offers considerable ID implications and is rich in potential for understanding some of the design techniques utilized with elegance and skill by our Creator.

As I have discussed the aspect of constrained optimization at length elsewhere [2], I will not do so again, but there are at least two ways in which Intelligent Design can inform other disciplines. One is the field of agribusiness. It is currently common practice for farmers to optimize their crops only based on yield production, ignoring the danger that such optimization provides in the case of diseases and climate condition. A model of constrained optimization that took into account such risk factors as pest behavior and the possibility of blights and other plant diseases would argue for a greater genetic diversity among crops planted, which might lower maximum yield, but do so at a vastly lower risk of crop loss, leading to a greater and more consistent expected yield. This would benefit farmers as well as food consumers, from the threat of wildly erratic food supplies and cost. Likewise, the field of urban and transportation design would appear to benefit from the study of constrained optimization. More intelligent designs of cities would be possible if development were not viewed in isolation, but rather engaged in a system-wide examination on the relationship of jobs (how many and at what income) to the development of residential properties (of a variety of values to avoid either gluts or shortages) as well as the development of sufficient transportation infrastructure to avoid traffic jams and other inefficiencies. Clearly, urban design is a field in rich need of attention to constrained optimization, an an area where the study of biology may offer rich design analogies to the larger world in which we live.

Finally, as is correctly noted by Dr. Meyer in his recent book Signature In The Cell, ID offers very specific expectations that so-called “junk DNA” will serve functions as operating systems for DNA, even if there is no protein coding purpose. Indeed, an area where ID offers rich (and, so far, largely underutilized) potential is in seeking to understand the question of purpose in life. For far too long purpose has been ignored, because in a naturalistic worldview there can be no purpose to life or its components, because it came about by accident. On the contrary, Intelligent Design expects and seeks for purpose in all facets of life, because Creators create for a reason. This would be useful in examining examples of dysteleology that result from life in a fallen world (examples would be the sickle-cell anemia mutation as a result of fierce combat against malaria). Again, this field of study offers rich potential for fields outside of biology, and in particular offers ground on which biologists may work with theologians and other professionals.

As the case against Darwinian evolution has been made beyond a reasonable doubt, it would appear that Intelligent Design is ready to take the step from modest appeals for recognition as a scientifically viable approach and mathematically and philosophically rigorous searching criticisms of the impossibility of life arising from purely unguided (i.e. Darwinian) means to the much more satisfying step of providing rich and varied lines of research for professionals to examine. It is my hope that ID can move beyond its origins as critique of the metaphysical assumptions of 19th century science and its modern relics and provide a rich research program for scientists for ages to come. Let us help, however possible, in bringing that happy state to pass.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-pseudoscience-of-naturalism-a-popperean-analysis-of-biologys-most-dangerous-assumption/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/some-thoughts-on-the-scientific-and-theological-implications-of-intelligent-design/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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