by Dr. Jay
In the 19th century Charles Darwin proposed
a revolutionary theory. It was revolutionary because it banished
the concept of intelligent design from biology and consigned it
to a marginal theological ghetto. For the first time, there seemed
to be a plausible materialistic explanation for all those ingenious
biological mechanisms the brain and the eye, digestion and
circulation, feathers and fins that had previously looked like strong
evidence for design.
But the Darwinian revolution wasnt an
isolated incident. Others extended Darwins ban on intelligent
design to include the origin of life. And the emerging orthodox
view in Darwins time was already that the universe was eternal
and had no cause. With additional help from intellectuals such as
Marx and Freud, Western culture was left with a view of humans as
mere animals or machines who inhabit a universe ruled by chance
and impersonal forces. Materialism, the idea that the material world
is all there is, and that impersonal forces alone explain its existence,
came to be seen, not as a minority philosophical opinion, but as
a worldview grounded in scientific knowledge.
As the Darwinist philosopher Daniel Dennett
argues, "Darwinism is a universal acid that eats away traditional
morality and religious belief." And in fact, the materialistic
interpretation of reality it supports slowly permeated every area
of our culture and seeped subtly into American life, slowly compromising
the basis of our legal and political rights.
If we are nothing more than the sum of chance,
impersonal law and environment, then we are not free and responsible
individuals, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.
Because we are not free, we are not responsible; so, paradoxically,
we can do whatever we "want."
The materialistic scheme dissolves our sense
of responsibility for our actions as well as the ethical framework
that makes our laws meaningful. Accordingly, materialists invariably
define claims of right and good as mere code words for the will
Deadly, but true?
This is unfortunate, but what can
we do? Materialism seems to enjoy the support of the firmest scientific
knowledge. Perhaps we must conclude that Darwins teaching,
as Nietzsche said, is "true but deadly." Clearly Darwins
teaching is deadly, but were beginning to find that it, along
with the other props of nineteenth century materialism, is not as
tried and true as weve been assured it was.
During recent decades, evidence from several
scientific disciplines has begun to expose the bankruptcy of strictly
materialistic thinking in science and reveal the need for a newer
and broader perspective of nature.
Much of this evidence comes from areas where
Darwinism doesnt apply. For instance, in cosmology, the best
evidence suggests the universe including all matter, space,
time, and energy came suddenly into existence in the
past. This contradicts the earlier picture of an eternal and self-existing
material cosmos. In physics, evidence has shown that the universe
is "finely-tuned" for the existence of life. In astronomy,
recent evidence suggests that even within a finely-tuned universe,
a lot of additional fine-tuning is needed to produce a planet where
life can exist.
Its almost possible to have a reasonable
debate about this evidence in the physical sciences. But this is
not so in the life sciences, despite the remarkable biological evidence
for design discovered in recent decades. For instance, we know about
complex and functionally integrated machines that cast doubt on
the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random variations.
Predictably, Darwinists try to explain away
the new evidence, and tolerate no criticism of Darwinian theory.
Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin, for example, urges scientists
to embrace a "materialism [that] is absolute" and to stick
with "material explanations, no matter how counter intuitive."
Discovery Institutes Center for Science
and Culture takes a different view, and thats why the Institute
supports scientists who will follow the evidence where it leads.
The Center for Science and Culture is the institutional home of
the intelligent design movement. It supports the research of scientists
and other scholars who are challenging materialistic theories such
as Darwinism, and developing a positive case for intelligent design
in nature. We also support the work of scholars who are developing
the implications of this scientific work for our culture as a whole.
But the case against Darwinism can stand quite
apart from the positive case for intelligent design. And in fact,
in the public sphere, the two are often separated. On the one hand
you have problems with the existing theory, and on the other you
have a proposed alternative explanation.
Science challenges Darwinism
Among the leading critics of Darwinism
is biologist Jonathan Wells. In his book Icons of Evolution,
Wells explains the failure of ten pillars of evidence for Darwinian
evolution. One of the most notorious "icons" was invented
by 19th century German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel, which compared certain
stages of vertebrate embryos. In the diagram, the early stages look
most similar, a fact that is supposed to show that all vertebrates
share a common ancestor. But biologists now know that Haeckels
diagrams are inaccurate, and that the early stages of vertebrate
embryos do not look most similar.
Another famous icon is the tree of life, which
illustrates the idea that all living forms evolved gradually from
a single common ancestor. But the illustration contradicts the fossil
evidence, which shows the geologically sudden appearance of many
new animal forms in the Cambrian period.
Many biologists know about these problems, and
some educators are beginning to let students know, as well. Ohio,
Minnesota and New Mexico have all adopted education standards that
encourage teachers and students to critically analyze Darwinian
evolution, that is, to look at the scientific evidence both for
and against the theory. Just this year, Ohios state board
of education adopted a model lesson plan, "Critical Analysis
of Evolution," that shows teachers how to help students do
Emerging theory of intelligent design
Over and above the scientific critique
of Darwinism is the emerging theory of intelligent design. Intelligent
design theory looks at all the evidence mentioned briefly above
from various scientific disciplines, as well as exploring information-rich
molecules like DNA, and tiny molecular machines like the bacterial
flagellum, which biochemists Michael Behe immortalized in his 1996
bestselling book, Darwins Black Box.
In that book Behe explains that during Darwins
time the biochemistry of life was as mysterious to scientists as
the wires and chips inside a computer are to small children today.
As long as scientists didnt know how the biochemical machinery
worked, they could reasonably believe that life had gradually self-assembled
along Darwinian lines.
Now that we know the inner workings of living
systems, however, we can no longer entertain such superstitions.
Behe argued that the flagellum and many other molecular machines
are "irreducibly complex." They are like a mousetrap.
They dont work without all of their fundamental parts. Natural
selection builds systems one small step at a time, by traversing
a path in which each step helps the organism survive a present danger
to its survival. It cannot select changes that will only be useful
in the future, when combined with others in a complex system. Such
foresight is the exclusive domain of intelligent agents.
Another intelligent design theorist, Stephen
Meyer, has developed complementary arguments in a number of important
articles in books such as Science and Evidence for Design in
the Universe. Meyer presents both empirical and logical arguments
against purely materialistic origin-of-life scenarios. And in a
lengthy article in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education,
Meyer, Marcus Ross, Paul Nelson, and Paul Chien argue that design
is apparent in the history of life, on the basis of the profusion
of animal life that appears in the fossil record as the so-called
"Cambrian Explosion." These are just a few examples of
the growing case for intelligent design.
These new arguments for design in natural science
arent merely speculative, but rest on a firm philosophical
foundation. This is due in large part to the work of philosopher
and mathematician William Dembski. In books such as The Design
Inference, Dembski describes how we can identify the effects
of intelligent causes and distinguish them from impersonal causes.
Few rational people would, for example, attribute cave paintings
or hieroglyphic inscriptions to forces such as wind or erosion.
Dembskis work shows why and thereby helps establish an objective
method for detecting intelligent causes. This means that the conclusion
of design in natural science can constitute an inference from scientific
evidence, and not merely a deduction from religious authority.
Not surprisingly, these matters are provoking
fierce debate. Many guardians of current scientific orthodoxy are
using tactics of intimidation and insult to prevent these new insights
from gaining a hearing, and even threatening the freedom of scientists
to follow the evidence wherever it leads.
Their furor is understandable, for they realize
that intelligent design in the natural sciences, like scientific
materialism, would have profound social consequences. No longer
would science seem to underwrite a materialistic world view, in
which human beings are neither accountable nor responsible.
What Darwinism and scientific materialism have
dismantled, intelligent design theory could help restore.
Jay Richards, Ph.D., is vice president and
senior fellow at Discovery Institute (www.discovery.org)
and co-author of the new book, The Privileged Planet (Regnery
ABOUT INTELLIGENT DESIGN
Web site of The Discovery Institute
heavy site whose goal is to provide answers to many of science's,
religion's and life's weightier issues free of charge.
www.arn.org The Access
Research Network attempts to put science topics in perspective
by looking at related political, ethical and philosophical issues
so the reader gets a well-rounded understanding of the
hot issues. Site includes profiles and papers by all the authors
mentioned in this article and more.