Canonizing Intelligent Design

Charles Darwin himself provided a standard for whether or not his theory could adequately explain the origins of life.

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications,” he said, “my theory would absolutely break down.”

In Darwin’s age, nothing was known about molecular biology and the inner workings of the cell. Today, Intelligent Design proponents have pointed out several different biological constructs that are irreducibly complex. Michael Behe points to the flagellum, which provides the cell’s “tiny outboard motor.” The flagellum is constructed of 46 moving parts. If you only have 45 of the 46, you don’t have a slightly-less-useful flagellum; you’ve got nothing but genetic junk that doesn’t do anything. In order for natural selection to produce something like this by accident, each of those 46 components have to come together perfectly, because even 45 out of 46 provide no genetic advantage and therefore are completely useless in natural selection.

The eye. The ear. DNA. The central nervous system. The taste bud. Each of these things have millions, if not billions, of tiny, microscopic, moving parts that they face the same challenge as the flagellum on a far greater scale. Intelligent design proponents insist that Darwinian evolution can’t adequately explain them.

Yet this hasn’t “disproven” Darwinian biology, because Darwinian biology provides workable explanations for many observable facts in the natural world – adaptation of species to fit their surroundings, for instance, even it gives no insight into how the basic building blocks of life began. When asked those questions, an honest biologist should answer, “we don’t know.” Which, of course, is a perfectly valid response. Science rarely “knows,” since it never reaches final conclusions. It’s always subject to change based on new data, and if the data don’t exist, science stays mum.

This is why Intelligent Design can’t accurately be called science. Some think it’s little more than gussied-up Creationism, which is the province of those who think biology teachers should be using Genesis as a scientific textbook. From what I can tell, ID is much more sophisticated than that. It certainly raises excellent questions, particularly about the problems of natural selection as an explanation for complex systems. But its alternative answer – life was designed! – isn’t helpful. Or, at least, it’s not scientifically helpful.

Consider this: a car shows up in your driveway. Where did this car come from? Answer: It was designed! Well, okay, great, but how? Where? What was the process? And how did it get here? I don’t even need to know “why” as a scientific inquiry. Just telling me that the car has been “designed” doesn’t tell me anything of value. Unless Intelligent Designers can provide scientific evidence of an alternative process to evolution, just touting “design” isn’t adequate.

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