|Intelligent design: Constant Tampering by
by Joe Meert
(created Sept 5, 2000)
Updated May 1, 2001
Michael Behe has argued that certain complex biochemical pathways lead inexorably to the the conclusion that they were designed by an intelligence. Similarly, ID proponents in cosmology argue that the Universe is simply too fine-tuned to have arisen through a series of random fluctuations. Recently, authors Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee have argued in Rare Earth1 that life in our own galaxy may be quite rare and that only a very small number of stars host conditions that are suitable for complex life. While Ward and Brownlee do not go so far as to say that life was a special design here on Earth, their work will no doubt find favor with ID proponents and the fringe supporters of ID, young-earth creationists (Indeed, reading through the recent reviews of this book on Amazon, I see that several creationists have held it forth as evidence for ID!!). Behe has become somewhat of a celebrity for his book Darwins Black Box2 and his argument that certain biochemical systems cannot evolve independently since the system will not function through a series of intermediate (incomplete) steps. His most widely-celebrated example is that of a mousetrap. Behe argues that if you remove one component of the trap, it will not work. Interestingly his mouse-trap example has garnered more criticism than many of the biochemical examples in his book! I am not a biochemist, however, it does appear that Behe has struck a nerve within the biochemical community by pointing out that the evolutionary history of many biochemical pathways have never been shown. Behe argues, ipso facto that an intelligent designer must be responsible for these irreducibly complex systems. While Behe does not implicitly specify the designer, it is clear that he believes the designer is likely the Christian God (see below). Other proponents of ID, such as William Dembski, also make similar proclamations regarding the identity of the intelligent designer. My point here is not to quibble about the question as to the identity of the intelligent designer, but rather to wonder about his/her/its workload. In doing so, I must admit that the discussion that follows is based on the idea that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and that the age of the Universe is somewhere in the range of 13-17 billion years old.
Before I go on, let me concede certain facts in the argument that follows. The first is that not all biochemical pathways and systems have been completely described in terms of their evolutionary development nor should science be faulted for not having all the answers. Having said that, there is a wealth of discussion about the evolutionary development of several of the irreducibly complex systems in Behes book. For example, the evolutionary development of the flagella is addressed by Szathmary (1987)3. Other examples can be gleaned from the literature by scanning any number of online reference lists such as PubMed. The point is not to argue back and forth about whether or not the evolutionary sequence of every irreducibly complex system has been completely described, but rather I wish to discuss the implications of irreducible complexity and the workload of the intelligent designer(s). Let me also concede that in terms of testing the irreducible complexity of biochemical systems, the fossil record will likely remain silent.
Let me start with the assumption that an intelligent designer does exist. Having established this fact, I must decide if the intelligent designer works alone or as part of an intelligent design factory. Given that intelligent design has been used as an argument for anything from the fine-tuning of the Universe/Solar system to the development of irreducibly complex biochemical systems; the intelligent designer must also either exist for a long time (and outside of time) or pass along his/her/its talents to offspring. The process of intelligent design (ID) begins with the fine-tuning of the Universe. This leads to a number of philosophical questions that I would like to see answered by ID theorists. For example:
These are important questions. One young Earth creationist I know suggested that many ID proponents are not 'Christian', and indeed some are atheists. No one has provided specific examples of who these are, but I suspect the most famous would be David Berlinski (a mathematician who finds evolution impossible and God equally unlikely). Berlinski must explain who/what this Intelligent Designer is since he/she/it must (seemingly) transcend time. Berlinski is hardly an ally for the ye-creationist movement and yet it seems that they will embrace his ideas simply because he argues against evolution (a point that makes at least one creationist uncomfortable--see later). Other ID 'theorists' whose names pop up during debate are Michael Denton and Lee Spetner. Interestingly, both Spetner and Denton are clear about who the original source of intelligent design is. Spetner is a Jew and, at least from a philosophical standpoint, his religious views run contrary to fundamentalist Christianity. Why are the religious views of these authors important? Some of the leaders of the ye-creationist movement view ID without the involvement of the Christian God as heretical (see later), therefore at least Berlinski's views should cause some angst; however, the most young earth creationist's will agree with just about anyone who argues against evolution.
Let me focus a bit on our own planet and attempt to read into the mind of the IDer. A number of ID theorists accept macroevolution (Behe, for example). Behes argument for ID stems from the fact that he has identified a number of biochemical pathways that he argues must have been designed because they are irreducibly complex (IC). Others have taken up the fight in defense of IC, but let me give several useful examples by either Behe or others. An online article by Mike Gene noted that some Archea lack a chaperone mechanism while others have it, in its entirety. The details of the chaperone mechanism can be found in this article along with the claims that it represents an IC system. For now, I will accept that this is an IC system requiring a IDer. The next example, used by Behe in Darwins Black Box is the bacterial flagellum also assumed to be an IC system requiring an IDer. Behe also comments, in an online article:
No doubt many other IC examples can be cited by ID theorists to support their arguments. My point here is not to argue about the details of each and every IC system, but merely to accept the arguments and point out the ramifications of the arguments. For this purpose, the examples cited above will suffice. Behe (and others) have given examples of IC systems that were designed over a time span of ~3 billion years (from the design of the Archea to the design of plants and modern animals). This implies a designer who is constantly modifying life on our planet and producing IC systems in a variety of organisms. The ID'er must also be capable of making mistakes along the way-- on the one hand guiding evolutionary change up to a point and then having his/her/its hand forced into making a change and develop an irreducibly complex system. This harkens back to a God of the gaps, a notion that is anathema to young earth creationists. It is surprising therefore, to find so many young earth creationists touting the ID theory since the only common link is the presence of some eternally intelligent designer. It seems to be a rather unholy alliance (pun-intended). The upshot is that either ID proponents must adopt a young earth philosophy in order to avoid the conclusion that the IDer is one who fills in the gaps, or that young earthers must adopt a bumbling God of the Gaps.
In one sense, ID is not new, it has merely been dressed up in a clever costume. Henry M. Morris, former director of the Institute for Creation Research points out:
The last point I wish to make is that neocreationism (in the form of ID) is simply a clumsy new device try and reintroduce religion into the public science classroom. The proponents of the 'new' ID theory do not even agree on the basic points as noted by H. Allen Orr:
The characteristics of the designer are seldom stated outright, but one need not look far to find clues as to who the designer might be. As Behe notes in yet another on-line article:
Or as Henry M. Morris succinctly states:
The ID theory of people
like Behe and Johnson is ultimately incompatible with young earth creationism.
Ye-creationists have formed an unhealthy alliance with the neocreationists because
ultimately, they are both fighting to have God declared as the intelligent designer.
The question in the minds of the young earth creationists is, of course, which God?
In my opinion, the God of Behe is a Tim 'the tool man' Taylor God who is constantly
tinkering with his design. This ID'er is also not always happy with his creations as
he/she/it apparently wipes out design nearly as often as he/she/it creates it. In my
opinion, ID theories of the Behe/Johnson ilk are not only bad science, they are bad
theology. On this last point, both Henry
Morris and I agree.
Other On-line Articles on Ye-creationism by Joe Meert: