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The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 First Web Papers On Serendip

Intelligent Design: Will it Stand the Test of Time?

Haley Bruggemann

Intelligent design is the theory that the theory of evolution is simply not explanation enough for the complexity of the world and that all organisms must be the product of careful and conscious design (Miller). It declares that organisms were built, just like the machines we build today, and that they were not the end results of a process of random mutation or natural selection. Some supporters talk of the existence of a grand designer, but fail to mention the designer's origin and nature. The arguments made for this relatively new and controversial theory can be refuted successfully using Darwin's ideas. To that end, intelligent design seems to lack the proper support and cannot possibly hope to stand the test of time as Darwinism has for over 150 years.

Intelligent design can be challenged beginning with the idea that every organism is perfectly designed and optimally suited to their life and environment. The problem with this idea is that there are design flaws in many organisms, flaws which no intelligent designer should have dreamed of including. The human eye, for instance, is only one example. According to Richard Dawkins, "some of the parts in our eyes have been wired backwards." He goes on to say that the eye of a squid or octopus is similar to the human eye, except wired correctly. There are scores of other examples, animals with tusks that are too heavy and weigh them down, even if only slightly, the blind spot in a horse's eyesight, or the fact that male birds use their brightly colored chests to attract mates, but at the same time, attract predators.

Furthermore, the structures seem to have imperfect design plans, and not just imperfect functions. The arrangement of the eye, if we were to look at it as if it had at one point been a blueprint, makes little sense and certainly does not produce the most optimal quality of vision. "No one, for example, would suggest that the neural connections should be placed in front of the photoreceptor cellsóthus blocking the light from reaching themórather than behind the retina" (Miller).

Proponents also claim that such complex organisms could not have come to be just by chance. However, Darwinian natural selection is not about chance. In fact, the element of chance is rather small. There are a series of small steps over a very long period of time, what is called macroevolution. Mayr stresses that "it is important to emphasize that all macroevolutionary processes take place in populations and in the genotypes of individuals, and are thus simultaneously microevolutionary processes" (Mayr, 190). Each step makes the structure and consequently the organism more complex, but the steps may be miniscule. "Given enough time (thousands of years) and material (millions of individuals in a species), many genetic changes will occur that result in slight improvements in a system of a structure such as the eye" (Dawkins).

Similarly, patterns in organisms can be explained by evolution and natural selection. It may be true that some animals look designed due to patterns, such as the number of legs in insects or a set of shared traits or behavior between two different species. Evolution not only provides specific scientific evidence for the ideas that it lays claim to, but can also accurately predict these patterns. One such prediction was the assumption, upon finding an orchid with an 11 inch nectar sac, that there must somewhere exist a moth with a proboscis of exactly the same length. The moth was discovered in 1980, years and years after the prediction had been made (Babinski). Likewise is the claim that DNA has too complex a pattern to it and is thus proof of intelligent design. DNA does have a pattern, but an unspecified one, and it also contains parts that appear to have no purpose, or "junk DNA" (Carter). Intelligent design has thus far not made any such predictions, and does not appear to possess any such practical applications. There are simply no testable explanations.

When we think about Darwinism, we think about fossil records and genes, cold hard scientific evidence. Some who support intelligent design claim that it has scientific evidence and that it is, in fact, a science. Intelligent design says that science should include supernatural explanations, that it should be open once more to the possibility. "At it's heart, intelligent design is a revival of an argument made by British philosopher William Paley in 1802" (Ratliff). Intelligent design is empirical in nature, and the scientific evidence, the so-called perfection of species, gives it little weight as a true science. In an August 2004 article, Chris Mooney writes that intelligent design has failed to successfully claim the mantle of science, and at the same time, has failed to successfully discard the mantle of religion. Some believe that science can never be dogmatic, and that intelligent design is nothing more than a pseudoscience. Though Darwin's ideas have been questioned and criticized, and though they are only a theory, scientifically, Darwinism holds it's own. For 150 years, the principles of natural selection have been applied to our daily lives, in something as random as physical therapy or pharmacology. The same cannot be said of intelligent design.

And so we have arrived at a crossroads. The uproar over teaching intelligent design as a separate and valid theory has created bitter opponents. Will future evidence support intelligent design, causing it to continue to be taught and studied 150 years from now? Will it survive only to increase it's wealth of supportive evidence, as Darwinism has? The state of intelligent design today certainly does not suggest that this is possible or even probable. The slope is too slippery, the evidence too easily explained away by any of the combination of Darwinism, physics, and simple probability. The chances for complex life forms to develop are not as miniscule as intelligent design suggests, and arguments made for intelligent design can be countered with design flaws, pattern flaws, and the lack of any true science within the theory. Before we can accept intelligent design as we have accepted Darwinism, it must be able to stand, proudly and properly supported, on it's own.

References

Babinski, Edward T. "Intelligent Design: Irreducible match of orchid and moth?" Edward T. Babinski. 5 Feb. 2005. .

Carter, J. Stein. "DNA Structure and Function." Biology 104. 5 Feb. 2005. .

Dawkins, Richard, as qtd in "Mother Nature, the Imperfect Designer", Sunday Telegraph , September 26, 1993, p. 149.

Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Miller, Kenneth R. "Life's Grand Design." PBS Online. 6 Feb. 2005. < http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/change/grand/>.

Mooney, Chris. "IDing ID." CSICOP Online. 5 Feb. 2005. .

Ratliff, Evan. "The Crusade Against Evolution." Wired Magazine. 6 Feb. 2005. < http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/evolution.html>.

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