Modern Synthesis versus Intellectual Design: science versus philosophy
Throughout time, there have been many beliefs or theories that have tried to understand the meaning of life. The more we advance in time, the more concepts are created. However, there are two main models that I would like to analyze as they both try to explain life through very different means. For this, I would like to use Kenneth Chang’s article In Explaining Life’s Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash, as a framework to the questions that I have on these two components. In his article, Chang teeters between the doubts of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the question of whether science can “include the actions of an unseen higher being” in explaining the history of life (1). Both of these understandings are based on different grounds with different purposes. Those of the modern synthesis rely solely on science and physical evidence for their understandings of evolution (2) while proponents of intelligent design address social implications related to an “intelligent cause” (3) to understand the history of life. In turn, the basis of understanding evolution is coming from two vastly different perspectives: a scientific one versus a social and political one.
The differences on the approach to life’s complexity from both sides start in the way they refer to life. Some evolutionary biologists explain that, “Modern Synthesis is a theory about how evolution works at the level of genes, phenotypes, and populations” (2). Using the word “evolution” already implies the belief of independent changes in organisms. Also, the term “modern synthesis” indicates their use of science and methodology, while the term “intellectual design” involves academia, logic, and rationale.
Modern scientists believe that “there is no need to resort to otherworldly explanations” (1). They base all of their theories and findings in physical evidence, like the use of DNA. Their genetic researches give them the basis for reliance on the theory of evolution. Science alone is their answer (2). They do not need to find explanation to any existing belief; they basically start on a blank canvas to build up explanations based on observations, which become scientific findings. Unlike modern scientists, proponents of intellectual design do not form their own theories; they do their experiments, researches and calculations to “put their ideas on firm scientific ground” (1). Design proponents do this to clarify the ideas that they already have. They feel that “the complexity and diversity of life go beyond what evolution can explain” (1). Chang explains that proponents of intelligent design agree with many basic foundations of evolution but feel that those bases are not enough to explain the density of life. Thus, they believe that there must be something creating these changes that result in the evolution of things (3). They base this believe in their observance of all the intricate parts of life, “Biological marvels like the optical precision of an eye…point to the hand of a higher being at work in the world” (1). These precisions in the way “biological marvels” are formed and work are not explained in the theory of evolution according to design proponents.
Although design proponents are not creationists their argument, “appeals to many Americans of faith” (1). William Paley, an Anglican priest supports the arguments of the design proponents by explaining how obvious it is that many things have been designed just by realizing what the entity is; he adds, “The marks of design are too strong to be got over”(1). These marks of design refer to their unique, complex, and inexplicable existence. Does this mean that they are trying to answer who or what created life?
Modern scientists quoted in Chang’s article inquire about this answer in order to accept the intellectual design. “It is the presumption of a designer that mainstream scientists dispute, because there are no artifacts of biological signs – no scientific evidence, in other words – to suggest a designer’s presence” (1). However, the idea of things being designed by a higher being already implies that there might not be an answer to this question, that humanity alone will not solve the puzzle. This is one of the major oppositions that the modern scientists have, “invoking a higher being as an explanation is unscientific” (1). As Douglas H. Erwin augments, “One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed” (1), as other scientists explain, “There is nothing in this concept that allows for scientific investigation of the ‘designer.’ It is simply an argument by default…” (3). Miracles are based on faith rather than on evidences, for this reason, modern scientists cannot accept the concept of intelligent design as they need proof in order to acknowledge any concept.
These contradictions show that the two groups are not addressing the same issues and questions. Modern scientists address science and methodology to define life. In the contrary, Intellectual design proponents address “mathematical work and biological experiments” to put into science what they already have defined by using social implications. In other words, Modern scientists try to make sense of life through science, while intelligent design proponents try to use science to prove what they have already constructed.
In making sense of these two views, I find that traditional scientific evident and methodology do not have to be the only ways which life can be understood. It seems like both concepts address life in the way that best suits the needs of the analysts. For this reason, it is perfectly fine to disagree in both views. Science is always related to social and political matters; in fact, it modifies or defines them in many instances. This understanding should be the basis to associate both approaches in understanding life.
1. Kenneth Chang, “In Explaining Life’s Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash”, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/22/national/22design.html, accessed on February 17th, 2009.
2. “Defending science education against intelligent design: a call to action,” The Journal of Clinical Investigation, http://www.jci.org/articles/view/28449, on February 17th, 2009.
3. Intelligent Design, http://www.intelligentdesign.org/, accessed on February 18th, 2009.
4. Laurence Moran, “The Modern Synthesis of Genetics and Evolution,” The Talk Origins Archive; Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy, http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/modern-synthesis.html, accessed on February 18th, 2009.
5. Elizabeth Pennisi, “Modernizing the Modern Synthesis,” Science Magazine, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/321/5886/196?ck=nck, accessed on February 18th, 2009.
6. Michael R. Rose and Todd H. Oakley, “The New Biology: Beyond the Modern Synthesis,” Biology Direct, http://www.biology-direct.com/content/2/1/30, accessed on February 18th, 2009.