Orson Scott Card weighs in on the controversy around intelligent design in his essay, “Creation and Evolution in the Schools.” I think he makes some great points in clarifying what the debate is really all about. Sadly, the real argument behind intelligent design has been largely mischaracterized and prematurely dismissed as if it were just a repackaged form of fundamentalist creation in six 24-hour days. It certainly is not.
Over the weekend I also heard part of an NPR interview with Kurt Vonnegut. While he’s far from Christian, he said that teaching intelligent design in the classroom is something worth thinking about, for it’s absolutely obvious that this amazing experience of life on earth is not just a random accident, but that something is going on here, something that demonstrates design. Kurt, you’ve got that right.
I marvel at the hysterical fear of using the “D word” in some educational and scientific circles. How those poor children would be wrecked for life if they graduated from our schools thinking that science hadn’t absolutely eliminated God.
I recognize that complex interactions can arise through random processes, and that complexity in a system per se is not sufficient evidence of external design. However, the universe, earth, and life itself appears to have been permeated with level after level of design to even allow natural selection or other engines of change to operate in the first place. To me, the argument from intelligent design about the weakness of the Darwinian model in accounting for the origins of complex biochemical processes and for the origins of many aspects of life is analogous to the difficulties one would face in mapping out an evolutionary rise of the modern bicycle from an ancestral tricycle. There is no pathway that connects the two with a series of minor mutations, each of which offers an incremental advantage. For example, a mutation that removes the pedals from a wheel will fail unless a chain is also added to engage the pedals with a wheel, and the chain will do no good unless there are teeth on both the pedal assembly and the wheel to engage the chain. In fact, for almost all key features of the bicycle, manufacturing mutations leading to those features would be harmful to the overall marketing success of the product unless multiple mutations occurred at once to achieve a useful end. For this to happen over and over by chance stretches credulity.
Bicycles and tricycles are vastly more simple than proteins, cells, mammals, orchids, and the relationships between the various properties of matter. When someone proposes a reasonable series of manufacturing mutations to create – or evolve – a bicycle from a tricycle or both from a common ancestor (the early Michelin stone wheel, perhaps?), wherein each mutation offers an incremental advantage in customer satisfaction or at least marketability, ensuring that the mutation will be rewarded with higher market share, then I think those who dismiss intelligent design will have a slightly stronger case. Until then, I’m staying away from randomly-generated vehicles.