Intelligent Design

 See the first Youtube installment of the video on Christianity in Evolution at http://youtu.be/Ects2nwjD6cIntelligent Design is the second theory of evolution to be discussed, Creationism being the first.

 

Intelligent Design, the third theory of evolution, might be called “Neo-Creationism;” its proponents accept much of the science of evolution but argue that natural forces, particularly natural selection (NS), are unable to account for the creation of much of Life’s dazzling complexity.  Hence, they claim that certain “irreducibly complex objects” had to be created.  The movement argues for the presence of design in the universe by positing that complex organs and systems such as cilia and the blood-clotting system are irreducibly complex. That is, because their unassembled component parts could not independently function, such systems must have been created whole cloth. ID has focused on the bacterial flagellum (fig. 0.1.) as a prime example, arguing that individual protein components would have no function unless most or all were in place. Hence, irreducibly complex and therefore created.

 However, recent research shows that nearly all the proteins present in the flagellum perform important functions elsewhere in the cell. For example, 10 of the proteins are present in a structure quite similar to the flagellum, the Type III secretion system (shown in fig. 0.1). This structure is a device to inject poison into other cells, making the bacterium virulent.[i] It is evident that diverse bacteria, in the course of their evolution, have built more elaborate flagella through such mechanisms as self-assembly of simple repeating subunits, gene duplication with subsequent modifications, recruitment of elements from other systems, and recombination of genes.[ii] A wide variety of bacteria have appropriated old components and assembled them in novel combinations to produce new structures. Such Lego Block-like rearrangements, or “tinkerings,” underlie the remarkable plasticity of living tissue and appear over and over in the genesis of ever more complex living things.

ID, like Creationism, has tried to defend Christianity from the attacks of a small number of scientists and commentators who insist that Neo-Darwinism (discussed below) invalidates the idea of God as Creator.  ID has claimed to be science so that it can be taught in U.S. public schools.  However, the courts have ruled against ID’s claims.  For example, Judge John Jones, a conservative Christian and George W. Bush appointee, ruled in the Dover trial[iii] that ID was religion and not science, and therefore could not be taught in public schools.[iv] In addition, ID and debates about irreducible complexity are “god-of-the-gaps” arguments. It is common for persons to attribute to the Almighty or the supernatural that which they do not understand. The term explanatory gap expresses the inadequacy of existing data or our knowledge of it to explain an observable fact or happening. People then will often fill the gap by crediting the power of some extraordinary force, be it astrology, fate, vital forces, or the hand of God.

For example, Kandel[v] notes that before the mechanisms of nerve impulses and their translation into muscle contraction were worked out, people assumed that an immaterial vital force was between one’s will to move a finger and its subsequent motion. Scientific inquiry has proven adept at filling in explanatory gaps, thereby falsifying many god-of-the-gaps arguments.

 

Fig. 0.1. A bacterial flagellum. Found in a variety of bacteria, including E.coli, it rotates like a propeller when the bacterium swims. Each component is composed of complicated proteins, which are in turn derived from specific genes. The Type III secretion system proteins form the base and core of the flagellum complex. Courtesy LadyofHats and Wikimedia Commons.[vi]

In contrast to ID, Creationism, and Theistic Evolution, I am suggesting a rapprochement of orthodox Christianity and evolution with a specific and detailed model that does not claim to be science but is nonetheless based on accurate descriptions and interpretations of the best that present-day science offers and a close reading of the Scriptures.  

Like Creationism, ID proposes a top-down and outside-to-in creator.  I prefer the Meta-Darwinist perspective, which argues for an inside-to-out self modification approach.  In this model, Life is an agent in its adaptations.  From a theological perspective, God then has granted to Life the radical freedom to alter itself.  This gets God off the hook for my grandson’s autism.  Behe, in The Edge of Evolution, argues that Darwin was being squeamish when he expressed his distress over the wasp that lays its eggs inside a caterpillar, there to consume the caterpillar from the inside out.  Recall that Darwin wondered how a good God could have created something as brutal as this.  I don’t think Darwin was being squeamish; rather, he was calling attention to a contradiction.  I agree with Darwin.  Both Creationism and ID create this fundamental contradiction, where God is responsible for autism and wasp eggs that consume caterpillars from the inside out.


[i] Miller, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul (New York: Viking Press, 2008).

[ii] Pallen MJ and Gophna U. “Bacterial Flagella and Type III Secretion: Case Studies in the Evolution of Complexity,” Genome Dyn 3 (2007):30–47.

[iii] In the lawsuit Kitzmiller v. Dover, parents of children in the Dover Pennsylvania School District filed suit disputing the teaching of ID in classrooms.

[iv] Miller KR. Only a Theory, p. 211.

[v] Kandel E. In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind (New York: WW Norton, 2006).

[vi] Image at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flagellum_base_diagram_en.svg

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5 thoughts on “Intelligent Design”

  1. Hi

    Good article but I think your not going deep enough into your imagination for God and in regards to your grandson’s autism. My son has autism BTW.
    First I think its well understood that caterpillars dont have any consciousness to conceptualize suffering or pain–so thats entirely moot.

    The 2nd is… God could cure my intense daily headaches but does NOT–as he could easily cure any disease. Your making God a slave to chance. The problem is your working forward when you should also be viewing this backwards.

    Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. God is not extrapolating. God could have chosen one of any infinite possible worlds but doesn’t pick the 876th best plan…he picks the best plan to achieve his purpose.

    Think, obviously there has to be a number of people in heaven at which God stops–or the world would go on forever with no resolution. How does God achieve that number? By choosing the best of all possible worlds in which that comes in–along with all the events in history that God wants to happen to demonstrate who he is. Have you ever considered a world without autism is a world in which less people are saved? Utopia may produce a heaven that is virtually empty.
    If I film an explosion of a Boeing 747 and played it backwards it may look like the parts assembled themselves but I think we know better. Now, if you roll the film of history back, and consider all the prophecies, times and places certain things had to happen, I think you’ll see these things you’re leaving to chance -could not have been chance. We cant just be myopic because our heads are into the science text books –we have to be balanced.
    God Did intervene in the world countless times and altered the physical universe and even humans thoughts. The point of the creation is to fill heaven in the manner God wanted it filled and that included suffering.
    When we give too much to one discipline, like science, we forget that each thing in our creation is represented by God’s Thought. There are no real physical objects to God. Just as God gave us our dream world to grasp, ever so slightly, how objects can be represented by thought—the universe is IN God and his thought sustains it. It may appear that the atoms cohesion is a 1 in a trillion trillion trillion chance but it is not. So is a mistake to view the physical parameters as truly being subject to chance. I think its more correct to see God as weaving together reality to achieve his goals for us and that it certainly was not chance that my son died from heart disease or my other son has autism. That leaves Chance as God and God as spectator.

  2. Hello John,

    I appreciate your comment on christianityinevolution.com. The question of God and chance, particularly around issues of theodicy (your son and my grandson) is a good one, and certainly a thorny one. I brought up the wasp and the caterpillar because it typifies conflict, of which there is an abundance in the universe. Why does God allow it? Or why the suffering of our kids? The daughter-in-law of a friend of mine was killed by lightning as she tended her garden in her backyard. Chance? What makes sense to me is that God supports the universe and all of Life with his Breath, which is on loan, freely given, leaving the universe and us radically free. It leaves us vulnerable to chance, but the crucial and most important thing is that we are left free to develop a love for him, and a connection with him. It is the only way for him to develop friends who freely turn to him. And for that he intervenes, to call us to himself, first through the prophets, and finally through his son. So we are free, subject to chance, but never alone.

    I would love to continue the debate.

    Ralph

  3. I believe in Intelligent Design Theory. God the Father spoke and the Logos, Jesus the Son, created. What method of creation was used and how old the universe is does not matter. God who is outside of time and space did it. Everything we know on earth is touching something else. We touch the earth, buildings touch the ground, the sky is held up by gravitational forces. My question is this: What contains the universe?

  4. Hello Charles,

    Thank you so much for your comment. If by “Intelligent Design Theory” you meant “God the Father spoke and the Logos, Jesus the Son, created,” I certainly agree with you. But the how is very important, too. An explanation of “how” needs to take into account the details of evolution, including the ubiquity of violent conflict. Even our genes conflict with one another. 50% of our genome is comprised of genes that were once marauders. In my two books I give evidence that living things modify themselves to adapt to changing circumstances. I conclude that God creates indirectly. He has breathed the Breath of Life into all matter in the universe, which provides matter with the intelligence to learn, remember, and modify itself. And, tragically, conflict with itself. Just think, we are animated by a Breath that has been around for billions of years. In each of us is a reservoir of genius, which can be unlocked by living “Thy will be done!” But the extent of our conflicts requires a Savior. We just can’t do it by ourselves. So what did we do after he arrived? We killed him. But God turns it all around with his resurrection. And that is how I see God working and creating, by taking our violence and turning it inside out. And that applies on every level of our being. Remember those marauding genes. They were domesticated, and their DNA utilized to build complexity. It’s a fact. I call it the Joseph principle: “You meant it to me for evil, but God meant it to me for good.” One outcome of my studies is that my faith has been increased.

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