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The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
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Intelligent Design and Evolution

Lauren Zimmerman

Humankind believes in many different stories that attempt to explain the apparent complexity and elegance of the natural world. Creationists believe that an omniscient being fashioned every aspect of the physical world, as is told in the Scriptures. Pure Darwinians claim that inheritability, random variation, and natural selection are sufficient to explain life's complex structures. A third theory called intelligent design claims that an intelligent source is needed to explain the patterns evident in nature. Proponents of intelligent design (ID) disagree with the Darwinian notion that life's apparent design is illusionary ( Is it possible to reconcile evolutionary theory, as it is understood today, with belief in an intelligent designer?

In the recent New York Times article Design for Living, scientist Michael Behe seems to suggest that intelligent design and evolutionary theory can coexist. Behe writes that proponents of intelligent design "do not doubt that evolution occurred," but rather question whether the evolutionary process alone can adequately account for nature's complexity. Behe also makes an important distinction between intelligent design and creationism. According to Behe: "the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments." An intelligent agent does not necessarily equate to a benevolent God who guides human affairs.

Intelligent design is undoubtedly a psychologically consoling idea. Many people feel uncomfortable with the random chance needed to drive the evolutionary process. A supernatural creator adds purpose to our lives. However, scientific findings have presented significant evidence in opposition to creationism. On a psychological level, intelligent design offers a welcome compromise for many, in that proponents of the theory still allege the existence of a higher being, but at least claim to have scientific proof to support their theory.

Herein lies the most significant problem with intelligent design: though it's advocates may claim otherwise, ID cannot be supported with scientific findings, because science does not have the ability to prove or disprove the existence of a higher being. However, just because the methodology used to support evolution cannot be utilized to prove intelligent design does not mean that it is not possible to reconcile the two theories. Arguably, the amazing process of evolution itself can be interpreted as evidence of an intelligent designer. Using such an interpretation, it is not the products of evolution that are indicative of an intelligent designer, but the process itself.

Another problematic aspect of intelligent design is that it is clear that biological systems are not perfect ( Human beings, for example, have appendixes, a seemingly unnecessary organ. Evolution explains that the appendix is a remnant from an earlier stage in human development, in which the organ did have a purpose. Thus, many see the appendix, and other vestigial features in animals, as evidence against intelligence design and in favor of evolution. This assertion implies that an intelligent creator would of course make all creatures perfectly suited to their environments, without any waste. However, those who make this claim may confuse intelligent design with creationism. Intelligent design does not necessarily imply perfection, only that the design inherent in biological systems cannot be entirely accounted for by the components of evolution. Furthermore, if we understand the actual process of evolution as evidence of an intelligent designer, rather than it's products, then there is no conflict.

Many have criticized intelligent design for confusing science and theology. It is clear that ID is not in accordance with the scientific method; however, science and religion need not be considered irreconcilable. Contrary to historical imagination, science and religion have not always been framed as enemies. In fact, science has a long history of being used justify God's existence. Newton, for example, was a devout Christian, and he considered his equations as evidence of a higher being (Dorn and McCellan). Additionally, astronomer Johannes Kepler interpreted the mathematical harmony in the Universe's configuration as testament to God's glory. It is of course more difficult to reconcile Darwinian evolution with religious doctrine, because it directly contradicts the creationism myth told in the scriptures. However, Darwin himself was not an atheist, but at least claimed to believe in a higher being who created the Earth and set the process of evolution in motion.

Darwin's religious beliefs are reminiscent of Deism, a popular doctrine during the Enlightenment. The belief, suggests "a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation" (" Deists see God as "clockmaker" who first "wound up" the Earth, but then disconnected himself from human affairs. Further, the world continues to operate under the fixed natural laws initially created by God. These laws "can be discovered through reasoning, observation, and experience" i.e. science ( Perhaps here we have found a venue through which Darwinian evolution and intelligent design may be reconciled.

It was stated earlier that one of the most discomforting things about evolution is the prominence of random chance. However, evolution is not an exclusively random process, and thus may be more easily reconciled to intelligent design than originally appeared. In What Evolution Is Ernest Mayr asserts that evolution is the combined result of both chance and necessity (Mayr, 228). Animals evolve because of natural selection, which is certainly not an accidental process. Natural selection is not inconsistent with belief in an omnipotent creator; a higher being could have created the order inherent to natural selection, and evolution.

The same scientific methodology used to explain evolution cannot be utilized to prove intelligent design; however, this does not mean intelligent design is not reconcilable with evolutionary theory. A renewed interpretation of both the theory of intelligent design and the spectacular process of evolution reveals that the two theories are perhaps compatible. In fact, such a compromise seems already to exist in the creed of Deism, in which an intelligent designer is considered responsible for the creation of the Earth, and the natural laws by which its operates. It is not necessarily the products of evolution that are indicative of intelligent design, but the complex mechanisms that drive the evolutionary process. The story of evolution can encompass the story of intelligent design.

Dorn, H., and McCellan. God said, "Let Newton be!" In J. Burk 1e (Ed.) Science and Culture in the Western Tradition (pp 250-273) Scottsdale: Gorsuch Scarisbrick Publishers.

Mayr, Ernest. What Evolution Is. (pp 228-229) New York, New York: Basic Books Publishers.

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