INTELLIGENT DESIGN NEO-CREATIONISM

INTELLIGENT DESIGN NEO-CREATIONISM

Since the main topic of this blog is evolution, I will concentrate here on Creationism and Intelligent Design. They both claim to be a science, and since they violate science’s norms, calling them pseudosciences is appropriate. Later on I shall specifically discuss other, alternate, ideas on human evolution that are pseudoscienctific.

Many scientists will tell you that it is a waste of time, time they do not have to rebut creationists and other pseudoscientists. A large factor in this reasoning is that no matter how completely you destroy their arguments, expose their false facts, bad logic, misquotes, and outright lies, they will come right back the next day with the same stupid arguments. In fact, if you look back in history, the arguments the Catastrophists used 175, 200 years, or more ago and compare them with some of the Creationist’s arguments of today you see that they haven’t changed much. They were wrong then and, with the greater knowledge we have today, even more wrong now.

In this respect those scientists are right, it is a waste of time. I have no real expectation of putting an end to any pseudoscience. I do have some hope that a few of the people who think that there might be “something” to the claims of one or more of the pseudosciences (esp. Creationism) will see them for what they are. What I do hope to accomplish is to use Creationism as example of what is not science and show how pseudoscience differs from science. At the risk of being accused of using a “straw man argument,” there are a number of variants of Creationism (and some do not exactly make their claims explicit) that somebody is sure to claim I used an unfair model, I will try to compare and contrast pseudosciences and science.

Previously I gave a list of the traits or characteristics of science, so here I shall give a list of some symptoms of pseudoscience (from Gary Taubes Bad Science, 1993:342-434):

1) The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause;

2) The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability;

3) Claims of great accuracy;

4) Fantastic theories contrary to experience;

5) Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the moment (or, said Langmuir1 (1932 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) “They always had an answer—always.”);

6) Ratio of supporter to critics rises up to somewhere near 50 per cent and then falls gradually to oblivion.

 

INTELLIGENT DESIGN NEO-CREATIONISM

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed,

which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive,

slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.

—Charles Darwin

The Reverend William Paley is probably the best known proponent of the Argument from Design for the proof of God’s existence. Intelligent Design Creationism is an updated version of this argument. Paley argued that if you were walking across the heath (he was English after all) and tripped over a stone, its lack of complexity would not be proof of much. In fact, he argued, its very simplicity would point to it being “natural” and not a product of design.2 On the other hand, if it was a watch that you had found, by examining it you would note its complexity and the need for all of its parts to be precisely designed and functioning for the watch to function, you would infer that there was a “designer,” a watch maker, in this case human. Then Paley extended the analogy to the eye. Its intricate and complex structure, all needed for it to function, was also an indication of “design.” But in this instance the “designer” was a supernatural being, more precisely the Christian God.

The logic of the argument is fairly simple: watches are complex artifacts designed by humans for a certain function; organisms (or certain “parts” of organisms) are complex systems with certain functions therefore they (or their parts/systems) were designed that way and since man cannot create or make organisms as he can artifacts, the designer is God. Paley and the Creationists are Christian and do not consider any possible other non-Christian being. The fallacy in this argument is the equation of artifact with living organisms. There are very important differences between the two. Differences that invalidate the argument. Artifacts are constructed things. Not dead things, because they were never alive, but non-living things. Artifacts do not reproduce themselves. Large numbers of identical artifacts may exist because large numbers were made; often to identical standards. They do not react to their environment, do not reproduce, and basically have no ability to repair themselves.

Organisms are alive, they are born, grow, reproduce, and die. Organisms are not identical (twins or clones may be genetically identical, but from birth their individual lives are slightly different). Organisms vary due to heredity and the environment, some injuries, etc. can be repaired, and some organisms have the ability to learn. And organisms have the ability to reproduce, perhaps not exact replicas of themselves, but another organism similar yet different (which is the point behind natural selection). Each the product of a long line of other organisms that were born, grew up, lived, reproduced, and died; reacting with the world around them.

This argument for the existence of God was used to argue that the eye was too complex and well designed to be the result of “random” evolution. God existed and He created the world and man. I believe that Richard Dawkins thoroughly demonstrated the error of this argument in his book The Blind Watchmaker.

COMPLEXITY EQUALS INTELLIGENT DESIGN

The concept of Intelligent Design3 has been around for a long time, several thousand years as least. It used to be called Creationism and has just been renamed and God redefined as a vaguely defined “Designer” to avoid legal problems (separation if church and state). Also the argument has been altered to make it look scientific. Intelligent design is very hard to rigorously define and “irreducibly complex” has been substituted. Sort of a verbal sleight of hand.

Originally, I had been thinking that the proponents of Intelligent Design had confused complexity with intelligent design, that, to them, complex systems were evidence of intelligence. I was thinking about this and that they needed to define “intelligent design.” Then I realized that they had, it is called “irreducible complexity.” They were not confusing intelligent design with complexity. It wasn’t confusion, it wasn’t accidental, they meant it. Intelligent design does equal irreducible complexity (both irreducible and complex, the more complex the better, with complexity equal to functionality). Intelligent design is meant to provide proof of a supernatural “designer” in the form of a trait or system that is so complex and intricate that it “had” to be created in single, coordinated step by God. They also argue that if something lacks complexity (AKA design), it is also designed if it has a “purposeful arrangement of parts.”

I have thought that simplicity was a mark of, if not intelligent, but good design, and an intelligent designer4 would chose the simplest design, although intelligent design proponents may not agree with me on this. I am not the only one to think simplicity is a mark of design, Mark Perakh (Unintelligent Design, 2004:63) says: “…simplicity is often a mark of design, while complexity often points to chance.”

We’ve all heard of Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will. How many have heard that Murphy was a real person? Edward Murphy was the test subject in experiments with rocket sleds in the 1950s. In the test a rocket-propelled sled was fired down a track with a live human (Murphy) on board. The purpose of the experiments was to test the effects on humans of large G-forces. During one of the experiments the rocket sled failed to ignite. Examination of the sled eventually discovered the cause. When the sled had been prepared for the experiment, a technician (I suppose you could call he a rocket scientist as this was rocket science) had inserted an electrical connection into its socket the wrong way. A simple enough mistake, the plug could be plugged in either way and eventually it was plugged in the wrong way. The connection was redesigned so that it could only be plugged in one way, the right way. This is also why the plugs for all of your computer equipment are different from each other and asymmetrical. They can only be plugged into one socket (the proper one) and then only one way. This is an intelligent design feature and it is simple.

Simplicity is a mark of an intelligent design (or more intelligent than a more complex design). So is built-in redundancy. An intelligently designed system would be designed with a backup for any component that has to function if the entire system is to continue to function. At least for very important systems that the organism might need to survive.

The complex and intricate process of blood-clotting has been put forward as evidence of intelligent design (and therefore proof of God’s existence). It has also been used to show the lack if intelligent design (Mark Perakh Unintelligent Design, 2004) precisely because of its intricate complexity. The argument being that an intelligent design is simple.

Let’s face it, blood-clotting is a complex and intricate process that has to function correctly for clots to form. Hemophiliacs lack a single clotting factor and are at risk of bleeding to death from a small cut or bruise. Exsanguination (AKA bleeding to death) is the cause of death for many organisms so the process is not perfect and has limitations. I do not want to get into the argument about irreducible complexity here, except to point out that the clotting system is irreducibly complex in that if any part is missing or not functioning the entire system fails. And that is the point here, it is a poor design. It works well enough most of the time but an intelligent designer (especially a benevolent creator) could have, would have, done better.

This is a problem about the intelligent design hypothesis, defining intelligent design. What is an intelligent design? We can argue about it and never agree. I used to work as a cook in restaurants. The last restaurant I worked in I was lucky because I spent most of my time there as a prep cook. I made soups, etc., making much of the food that can be prepared in advance and/or made in large quantities. There was a week or two I was working on the “line.” I had been a short order cook for years before, in other restaurant kitchens, so I had some experience with different commercial kitchens and I did not like this one. It drove me nuts, well dizzy might be a better description. I did not have to walk very far, a few steps in each direction but always seemed to be turning around. Now that I think about it, everything like the eggs and the bacon were in drawers under the work surface, not above at arm or shoulder height. I did not like the way the kitchen was designed, maybe the other cooks did. It was, to me, not an intelligent design, there was a lot of wasted motion, turning around or bending over.

The Argument from Design has reappeared as Intelligent Design Theory.5 (It seems to me that rather than being an Argument from Design it really is an Argument from Personal Incredulity. That is: if I (who is second to God in intelligence) cannot understand it so complex it is beyond human understanding, therefore it must be because of God. Creationists often seem completely oblivious to the great diversity of life and choose some particular trait or character and act as if it is unique and ignore all the other incidents and variations of it that exist. I have read a comment that Creationist’s have “carefully impoverished minds.” The implication is that they deliberately ignore much of the incredible diversity and variety of life in the world around them.6 This remark triggers a connection in my brain with previous images and ideas. Images of Noah leading “two of each kind” onto the ark: giraffes, zebras, tigers, lions, elephants, cows, horses, sheep, cats, dogs, etc. Pretty much the menagerie of animals that were known to the medieval world and to the Middle Eastern World of Biblical times. (Nobody seems to worry about plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, etc.)

It is what I have labeled “backyard zoology.” Most people if you asked them to name species of animals will start off the list with those most familiar to them, probably those animals that are domesticated residents of the farm, then they may add those wild animals that live around the farms (mostly North American and European) and add those of Africa. What all these species mostly have in common is that they are medium to large mammals. Even then they are likely to think in a generic sense of deer, giraffe, cat, elephant, zebra, bear, etc. as “species.” Not recognizing that there are 45 species of “deer,” 37 of “cat,” 2 of “elephant,” 4 of zebra (one, the quagga went extinct in recent historical times), and 6 species of “bear.”

Some people will specify white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, Grevy’s Zebra, common zebra, etc. However, how many people will mention manatee, dugong, dolphins, porpoises, armadillo, aardvarks, baboon, mandrill, rhesus monkey, marmoset, howler, gibbon, brown bat, pipistrelles, vampire, fruit bat, flying fox (there are 17 species groups of bats, only rodents have more species, 1814, than bats, which have 986). And this is just mammals (placentals at that). There are marsupial mammals (koala, opossum, kangaroos, wombats, etc.), 280 species, and the monotremes (only 3 species). Authorities differ slightly in their classification, but there are about 4000 species of mammals. Then there are the other vertebrates: reptiles (snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodilians, etc.), amphibians (frogs, newts, etc.), fish (1000s of these). To this has to be added the species of invertebrates: clams, oysters, corals, starfish, sea urchins, jellyfish, snails, slugs, mosquitoes, bees, flies, wasps, hornets, butterflies, moths, dragon flies, and the “beetles”.7 To all this can be added the plants (humans are very much mammal-centric) and the single-celled organisms like amoebas, and all the bacteria (which some people estimate outweigh let alone outnumber in total number of individuals every multi-cellular organisms in total).

Most people are totally unaware of the number and diversity of all living things on this planet. Aristotle listed only 550 species. I believe that most people would be hard pressed to name 4000 species of any kind, let alone the 4000 species of mammals. Creationists will proclaim about the wonder of “God’s Creation,” then they ignore almost all of it and act as if “all creation” is as small, familiar and known as the animals in the barnyard with the wildlife that lives in the woods beyond the farm fence. That life is small and simple, static, and safely known.

Even I have overlooked the birds (which outnumber mammals). Most people simply are not educated (or interested) enough. Most find it convenient to live in such a simplified world. Small, familiar and friendly, static and safe, everything is known.

The ability to fly has independently evolved at least four times (insects, pterodactyls, birds, and bats), the ability to echo locate also four times (bats, toothed whales, oil birds, and cave swiftlets), and venomous stings, at least 10+ times, and echolocation several times. Perhaps these complex designs are not so complex and difficult after all.

“PERFECTION OF ADAPTATION”

There is this idea that organisms are perfectly adapted to their way of life (“niche”). This idea has been a part of the “proof” that all species were created. The perfection of their adaptations was due to a wise and benevolent Creator and from this follows the “Argument from Design.” Evolution cannot evolve perfection, Creationists argue since it is a trial-and-error process. They’re basically right, not about the Argument from Design but about evolution not resulting in perfection of adaptation. God is perfect and He must always do things perfectly, therefore Creation by God requires perfection, anything less is evolution.

The eye is so “intelligently designed,” it was either created by God or its evolution was directed by God. I really like the irony of using the eye as the example to explore the theory. It is not perfectly adapted or well designed. Rather its higgeldy-piggeldy design is evidence of evolution, of evolution’s using what it has got, its adding on to existing structures, and conversion of one thing for another use.

One evolutionary biologist (George Williams) said the eye8 was “stupidly designed.” The layer of neurons and capillaries are in front of the photoreceptors and interfere with the light reaching them. The optic nerve attaches to the retinal neurons on top of the retina creating a blind spot in each eye. Also the retina is loosely joined to the cells of the wall of the eye (the retinal pigmented epithelium). The connection is loose enough that a hard impact to the side of the head can lead to a detached retina. The eye isn’t “designed” this way because it is the only way. Squid, for instance, have an eye with the photoreceptors in front of the neurons.

Rather than the eye being evidence of “intelligent design” it is evidence of evolutionary design. The eyes make constant little movements to compensate for the degraded light that reaches the photoreceptors and the brain integrates the images to create a clear one. The blind spots are not in the center of the field of vision but both are set off to one side so that the blind spot in one eye’s image is covered by the image from the other eye. The brain, once again, combines both images into a complete picture without the blind spot. This is how evolution “works” by jury-rigging a solution. Rather than going back to “square one” and completely redesigning whatever the structure is so that it is simpler, more efficient, etc. Evolution adds complexity to overcome the problems caused by using what is at hand. The 32 steps involved in the clotting of blood are not evidence of planned design but the result of increased complexity inherent to adding on to an existing design to make it “do.”

The lancelet (Amphioxus) is generally agreed to be the closest living relative to vertebrates (the closest living organism to the ancestor of all vertebrates—chordates, etc.). It has no eye, just an eye spot, photosensitive neurons at one end of the nerve cord. The cord is actually a tube and the photosensitive neurons have cilia that project into the hollow tube. The tube is open on the side opposite to the neurons and has dark pigment in the cells that form at the end of the tube. The eye spots point inward so that only the light that passes through the transparent body and enters the tube is detected, the pigment blocks reflected light. Light can enter the opening and reach the neurons, allowing the lancelet to orient itself to the light.

In a developing vertebrate embryo, the future eye begins its development from a similar structure. Adding on to the lancelet-like eye spot by extending the pigmented layer to form a pigmented epithelium and forming a fragile connection with the retina. Also it blocks the light from the “front side” of the neurons. But by forming a convex surface (concave from the “backside” of the neurons), they are capable of capturing more light and gradually as it becomes more sophisticated, form images. Not the best design but one that works, not only works (according to the needs of the moment) but each gradual change leading to a fully working mammalian eye is better than its predecessor.

We are not perfectly adapted (see Wilton Krogman, “Scars of Human Evolution” in Human Evolution, 1967 Korn and Thompson (eds.)). Humans suffer from knee and back problems because our knees and backs are not perfectly adapted for bipedal walking. We suffer hernias for the same reason, the abdominal wall is not well designed to support the weight of our internal organs. We also choke and have an obstetric dilemma. A perfectly adapted and designed large intestine would not have an appendix which has no purpose that we have ever been able to figure out. It does occasionally become infected which was, until relatively recently, fatal. The appendix can be and is removed without any noticeable difference in the functioning of the body.

Some people will claim that humans are not good examples because we are different from the natural world around us. We are some sort of fallen or degenerate species. So how about the panda?

Pandas live in the bamboo forests of southern China. They eat nothing but bamboo leaves. They were getting along, at least until man began destroying its environment. Surely here was an animal living in the state of nature, finely adapted and perfectly designed for its way of life. It even has a kind of “thumb” on the side of its wrist to help it manage the bamboo stems. Pandas actually exist on the edge of starvation. Not because man has destroyed so much of the bamboo forests that there is not enough to eat but because pandas can barely eat enough bamboo in day to provide for that day’s energy needs (see Schaller, The Last Panda, p. 103). They do not hibernate like other bears because they cannot get enough extra calories from their diet to be able to store up enough fat for hibernation so they spend the winter months out in the cold weather searching for food.

Pandas are descendants of omnivores, they have the teeth, simple stomachs, and short intestinal tract of omnivores (just like us). Bamboo is a grass, a high bulk and low quality food, its contents are enclosed by cellulose walls and do not contain much in the way of nutrients. Other herbivores that subsist on grass consume large quantities of it, have large molars with complex surfaces to crush the cell walls to give access to the cell contents, large stomachs to hold the mass, complex stomachs to allow fermentation and long intestinal tracts to maximize the time available to digest and absorb the plant and fermenting bacteria remains and by-products.

Pandas are not able to thoroughly extract all the nutrients and calories that could be gotten from bamboo. They rely totally on that available from the cell contents. The size of the panda’s stomach limits the volume of bamboo it can eat at any one time. Once the stomach is empty more can be eaten. This limits the total volume of food that can be consumed and the total number of calories. Pandas cannot eat more than they already do and they spend a large part of their day eating. Even so they can barely consume enough calories to meet their energy requirements. Their energy requirements are kept to a minimum by avoiding strenuous activity. They move slow, avoid steep climbs, or climbing trees and they don’t move far, mostly from one patch of food to another. Mostly they eat and rest. They accumulate very little body fat, keeping their stomachs filled is necessary for bare survival.

Pandas are not well designed or perfectly adapted to their way of life. Surely a wise and benevolent Creator would have “designed” a panda that didn’t have to live, even at the best of times, on the edge of starvation. The panda is poorly designed, it barely works.

But it does work and that is evolution. Pandas may be poorly adapted, a less than perfect design, but they have survived. Their adaptations do function, not perfectly, but well enough and that is all that matters.

Natural selection cannot evolve absolute perfection. It works on what materials are at hand and what worked in the recent past. It does not take into consideration the future, “it” has no knowledge of the future. Only in so far as the past is a good predictor of the future does this work. The closer an organism comes to being “perfectly” adapted to its environment, its niche, the less the “selective pressure” is, the harder it becomes to eliminate the not-quite-so-perfectly-adapted genes. The “Law of Diminishing Returns” comes into full play. This assumes that the environment remains consistent long enough and it never will except only in a larger sense. Organisms are adapting to what has happened in the past, never to what will happen, so they are always “playing catch-up.” Like the panda, all organisms are “jury-rigged,” adapted well-enough to survive but not necessarily perfectly.

One of the things that seems strange to me (and I know to a few other scientists) is that only a few things are “irreducibly complex” (and therefore evidence of intelligent design). The “designer” seems to have concerned himself with just a few “designs” (which also seem to correspond to current gaps in our understanding and knowledge9) and left the vast majority to be a slap-dash job; designs that were not quite thought out or left partially done. There seems to be a need for some special pleading or ad hoc reasoning for this.

Take your heart for example. People exercise to built up muscle and improve their physical condition. Some people (e.g. athletes, like weight-lifters, boxers, wrestlers, and body-builders) deliberately try to increase their muscle mass. For the most part they suffer no ill-effects from having muscles larger than what is considered normal or average for their size (use of steroids to build those muscles is another problem). However the same does not apply to your heart. Exercise can be beneficial for your heart, not because it increases its size but because it improves its condition and function.

If your heart increases in size it becomes an “enlarged heart” and that is a serious medical condition. The heart is enclosed by a membranous sac called the pericardium. This contains the heart and all the associated blood vessels and nerves. The heart can enlarge with undue stress (high blood pressure, etc.). When it does it begins to completely fill the pericardium, which does not expand to fit the heart, and then the pressure increases and the heart has trouble pumping blood into the pericardium. If the heart has enlarged too much and the body’s demand for blood increases, the heart works harder, need more blood to meet the increased effort, has a hard time getting the fresh blood into the pericardium, and parts of the heart become oxygen-deprived, and you are in serious, even fatal, trouble.

Seems to me that if the heart was deliberately designed (especially by an “intelligent designer”) the job could have been done better. Perhaps there is some “reason” for why the heart and pericardium are the way they are. The designer, and here we mean God, does not have to work in ways we can understand. Perhaps so, and any reason is an ad hoc reason. The heart and pericardium are the way they are for one reason or another, we are prone to hemorrhoids (see below), ruptures, appendicitis, tonsillitis, prolapsed uterus, enlarged prostate, slipped discs, etc. for a variety of reasons.

For most people, for most of their lives, their heart works well enough. The human body works well enough, most of the time. That’s evolution. Evolution does not produce a perfect design, pretty good is close enough. As the “quality of design” improves the “force” to select for improvements decreases (the law of diminishing returns). “Perfection” may evolve but pretty good is more likely. All these little imperfections and even the overly complex “designs” are evidence for evolution.

“Design” can be defined as to conceive in the mind, to have a goal or purpose, or to create or execute plans. This definition does, pretty much, require that there be a “designer.” So the problem really is how to determine that a “design” is actually designed, something that “had” to be deliberate. Intelligent Design has chosen “irreducible complexity” as evidence of deliberate design, something that had to have a designer, sentient being. Their hypothesis being that something that is extremely complex, even excessively complex and even lacking self-compensating mechanisms (redundancy,) that as a system has to have all of its “parts” to function has to be designed, deliberately designed that way to function and because of its complexity the designer is, if not a god, then second to God in intelligence.

As I discussed above, there is room to argue about what are the hallmarks of an “intelligent design,” and the proponents, in trying to define what is or is not intelligent, switched the argument to “irreducible complexity,” supposing that they can define that in a way that is objective and not open to argument.

“Intelligence” is a value, a subjective value, that depends on what an individual believes. Attempts have been made to develop “intelligence tests” that could quantify intelligence. Basically these have failed because they can be quite dependent on a person’s age, experience, training, economic and cultural background, motor skills, etc. There is a story of an anthropologist who many years ago tried to test the intelligence of several Australian Aborigines. The story goes that first, the anthropologist gave them a pencil and piece of paper to write or draw the answers on. This failed because they had no familiarity with pencils, paper, or the concept of taking tests. Then he tried testing them with the “put the properly shaped peg in the correct hole” test. This failed because the person he gave was testing would call over some of the other adults and they would then discuss which peg went into which hole. In this particular culture everybody depended on everyone else, nobody did something as an individual if there were other people around to help. The Aborigines were not stupid, they were just different. The anthropologist failed to test their intelligence because of cultural and technological differences that had not been taken into account when the tests were developed. They were not, as an anthropologist would say, cross-cultural.

The early IQ tests actually tested one’s knowledge of white, European, middle-class life. In college I had a professor (white, Welsh) who was “dared” by a black professor to take a “Black IQ” test, an IQ test that was biased toward blacks. My professor took it and did very well which surprised the black professor as the test was as biased toward blacks and the standard test was toward whites. My professor said it wasn’t that much of a surprise as the neighborhood he grew up in was across the street from the black neighborhood. He, in effect, grew up partly in the black world.

Intelligence is very subjective and nobody has an objective way to define intelligence or empirically rate (quantify) the intelligence of a design. Nobody can agree on a consistent definition. Intelligent design has jumped over this “logic pit” and equated complexity with intelligence. They have changed definitions without telling anyone. Then, to complicate the situation even more, made it “irreducible complexity.”

Philip Behe defines irreducible complex systems as “a system composed of several interactive parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to cease functioning.” William Dembski adds that irreducible complexity does not “allow” parts to change shape, that is not part of the original definition. Further, there is an implication that “basic function” cannot change either.

This definition and addenda basically constrains a “design” to be a complex, intricate, and functioning system that cannot (by definition) be composed of subsystems that had different original forms (shapes) or different original functions. They predict that there will be no intermediate stages and then define out the very processes that evolution uses. Intelligent Design artificially creates complex (and often excessively complex) systems, then calculates an extremely low probability of these “systems” forming spontaneously by random processes and declaring that this is impossible and therefore a supernatural force (that is, a Christian God) had to be involved.

First of all, even extremely low probability is not the same as impossible. Complexity is equated with low probability and extremely low probability is basically considered equal to impossible and therefore requires supernatural help. The probability may be very small but it is equally small for all possible events. That Event A did not happen may mean the Event B (also equally improbable) did happen. Low probability for Event N does not mean that no Event N would ever occur, especially somewhere in the entire Universe. Secondly, complexity, even irreducible complexity, is not the same as deliberately design.

Intelligent Design admits that the scientists are right about all their evidence. Evolution did occur but God started it and controlled the way it happened. It is evolution without the “randomness” and Creationism—one step removed—God meant for it all to happen and directed it one step removed. Intelligent Design is an attempt to provide a (supposedly) rational, scientific, non-religious proof of God. By using “God did it,” as a valid scientific cause. God can do or not do anything for any “reason,” therefore “God” explains everything and nothing. “God” cannot be tested. Intelligent Design is on a slippery slope when it admits that evolution is real.

Evolution, on the other hand, predicts that “parts” and “basic function” can and will change, both form (shape) and function. Also that complex systems will be made from subsystems that had different shapes and functions. Each subsystem, each gradual change of shape and function was operative and advantageous to the organism. In fact each change was as advantageous or more advantageous than the stage before.

Birds are an excellent example of how evolution can and does change the shape and the basic function of parts of an organism. Feathers started as a scale turned into a hollow, hair-like shaft, the shaft became a “feathery” shaft with barbs (down-like) for insulation, some of them then became long feathers to cover the body, then some changes shape and function to become flight feathers. Wings began as legs or legs that became arms and then changed function and shape again to eventually be wings for flight.

This is the whole point about evolution—things change. They change their shape and they change their function. The only requirement is that with each change of shape or function the system functions a little better or does some new function that is useful to the organism. Systems do not need to be simple, they do not need to be perfect. They can be overly complex, just-good-enough, less-than-perfect, make-do, jury-rigged “designs.” it is as Niles Eldredge said (1995:46): “… organisms are not so much paragons of design as compromises of design.”

Intelligent Design argues that the universe, in general or small detail, is so complex that it had to be designed (from the beginning), complex systems are not the result of simple processes, let alone random ones. However complex systems can be described by simple rules. The basic structure of the Universe, the orbits of the planets in our solar system, etc. can be described by Fg=G(m1m2/d2), the formula for calculating gravity. Without irreducible complexity, “design creationists are left with very little that would constitute even a semblance of a genuine scientific discourse. Complex specified information is not science but philosophy” (Perakh 1004:81).

In fact, no intelligent design hypothesis has ever

been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological

phenomenon. This might seem surprising to people who think

that intelligent design competes directly with the hypothesis

of non-intelligent design by natural selection. But saying,

as intelligent design proponents do, “You haven’t explained

everything yet” is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary

biology certainly hasn’t explained everything that perplexes

biologists, but intelligent design hasn’t tried to explain

anything at all. —Daniel C. Dennett10

 

HEMORRHOIDS: THE RESULT OF INTELLIGENT DESIGN?

The argument is that “design implies a designer.” It is an old argument meant to prove that there is a God. In a “design” as intricate and perfect as plants, animals, and the way they interact (ecology) only a God could be the Designer. Evolution is, supposedly, incapable of design and therefore doesn’t exist, or if it does, has to be directed by a Higher Power.

As far as language goes, “design” probably does imply a “designer.” A perfect and intricate intelligent design implies a perfect and intelligent designer. But is this world, this Universe designed? More importantly: is it a perfect and intelligent design? If it is not perfectly designed, but a suboptimal, imperfect design, this falsifies the hypothesis and demonstrates that is it wrong.

My Merck’s Manual (1987:820) states: “Since hemorrhoids occur universally in adults and children, they should not be considered abnormal.” Furthermore, hemorrhoids can spontaneously appear and can spontaneously disappear without treatment. They can very from mildly irritating to extremely discomforting, but are not, in and of themselves extremely debilitating or fatal.

Hemorrhoids seem to be due to the design of the human body, the presence of arteries near to the surface in a region exposed to intense muscle contractions. A flaw in the design, if you will. It seems to me that an intelligent design would have avoided this problem. Of course it may have been meant this way, we were meant to have hemorrhoids, or piles as they are also known. The Bible refers to them as “emerods” and God smited a number of people with them. The Philistines were plagued by them after capturing the Ark. Although Hans Zinsser (Rats, Lice, and History, 1971:80-81) believes that in this instance emerods is better translated11 as “swellings” indicating bubonic plague.

Since nothing happens or doesn’t happen without God12 actively or passively causing or allowing it, hemorrhoids are God’s doing. Maybe it was designed that way so that God could inflict emerods on the unrighteous. The rest of us just have to suffer so that He can have His curse. We are, as the military phrases it, just collateral damage. However, if we evolved then hemorrhoids need not be a “design feature” but a byproduct of some other adaptation.

A question is why would a gene evolve that caused hemorrhoids and why would natural selection cause this gene to be maintained in the population and spread through it? Would not a maladaptive gene be selected against thus never becoming established in the gene pool? Or, if established, should not natural selection work to get rid of it?

Although I know of no evidence, either one way or the other,13 it seems to me to be unlikely that there is a gene for hemorrhoids and only hemorrhoids. It seems more likely to me that there are genes involved and that they are primarily involved in other parts of human anatomy. That their primary function/effect involves the development of the body and the particular structure of the body that causes a tendency for hemorrhoids is an unintended byproduct of other features of the human anatomy. Other features that are useful and which natural selection maintains the genes for the feature in the gene pool because their adaptiveness, their usefulness (“fitness”) is greater than any mal-adaptiveness of hemorrhoids. An individual’s overall, inclusive, fitness is greater with hemorrhoids than without.

It also seems that no mutation that keeps the associated traits but changes the physical structure to no longer produce hemorrhoids has not, at least not yet, occurred. Although maybe it has, it just reduced the likelihood or the severity of hemorrhoids.

OTHER SCIENTISTS’ VIEWS

When I was discussing scientific methods I included a large number of quotes about science, theory, and method by scientists. Below are some quotes from scientists about pseudoscience and creation science:

“Science has proof without certainty, creationism has certainty without proof.”—Ashley Montagu

“… What distinguishes science from pseudosciences is not whether your theory originated with some particular conviction about how the world works, or whether you feel an emotional attachment to it. What matters is the evidence you find to support it, and whether you are ultimately prepared to accept that it could be wrong.”—Gabrielle Walker, Snowball Earth (2003:148)

“[The arguments for scientific creationism] often involve tortured logic, a stubborn denial of the evidence, a shallow understanding, or a reckless disregard for truth.”—Tim M. Berra, Evolution and the Myth of Creationism (1990:125-126)

“We consistently found these data to be shoddy and, even when taken at face value, to lead to absurd conclusions about stride length, foot length, and foot shape of the “humans” that presumably made them.”—Laurie R. Godfrey, Notes of an Anatomist, p. 36, Creation/Evolution 5(1):16-36

“… Creation scientists appallingly unprofessional research methods.”—Robert T. Pennock, Tower of Babel (1999:219)

“In short, the moon dust argument was based on outdated and incomplete data and simply ignored a variety of countervailing evidence.”—Robert T. Pennock, Tower of Babel (1999:223)

“The claim that a thick layer of dust should be expected on the surface of the moon and the claim that not more than a few inches of dust were found on the surface of the moon, are contradicted by an abundance of published evidence. The continuing publication of these claims constitutes an intolerable violation of the standards of professional integrity that characterize the work of natural scientists.”—Howard Van Till (Calvin College physicist and Christian theist), Science Held Hostage—What’s Wrong with Creation-Science and Evolutionism (1988:82)

“… My objection to supernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the world. They represent a narrowing-down from reality, an impoverishment of what the real world has to offer.”—Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale (2004:614)

“In contrast, ID creationism reduces God to an artificer, a mere watchmaker piecing together life out of available parts in a cosmic warehouse. … Calling God a watchmaker is delimiting.”—Michael Shermer, Why Darwin Matters (2006:130)

“Popular, palatable views of the world and how it came to be do not constitute science or truth. But decent science education requires that we share the truth we find—whether or not we like it.”—Lynn Margulis, Distinguished Professor, University of Massachusetts

“To invoke God as a blanket explanation of the unexplained, is to make God the friend of ignorance. If God is to be found, it must surely be through what we discover about the world, not what we fail to discover.”—Paul Davies, physicist

“… And not everyone does know what is meant by “God.” The concept covers a wide range of ideas. Some people think of God as an out-sized, light-skinned male, with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others—for example, Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein— considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws. Whether we believe in God depends very much on what we mean by God.”—Carl Sagan, Broca’s Brain (1980:330)

 

FOOTNOTES TO MAIN TEXT

1Langmuir added, “The critics can’t reproduce the effects. Only the supporters could do that. In the end, nothing was salvaged. Why should there be? There isn’t anything there. There never was.” From a 12/18/53 colloquium: “Pathological Science—The Science of Things That Aren’t So.”

2Inference to Design: Design means a purposeful and intelligent creation, not simply the elimination of necessity (natural law) and chance.

3In Of Pandas and People, the textbook of the Intelligent Design movement, “Intelligent Design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, wings, etc.” “Began abruptly” is another way of saying “created.” There is no directed evolution.

4I did not capitalize intelligent designer deliberately. If intelligent design is a scientific hypothesis, as its proponents claim, and not a religion in disguise, intelligent designer should not be capitalized like God or Allah is.

5This is a theory in the second sense. Not a theory so well supported by facts that it must be true but not provable as a “law.” The second sense is the popular idea that theories are vague suppositions. Intelligent Design is actually a hypothesis.

6 While at the same time proclaiming the great wondrousness of God’s creation.

7There are presently about 870,000 known living species of arthropods, of these some 340,000 are beetles. This explains the remark of J. B. S. Haldane, when asked if his study of nature had revealed any thing about God. He remarked: “An inordinate fondness for beetles.” According to Stephen J. Gould he may also have said “special preference,” See his Special Fondness of Beetles in Dinosaurs in a Haystack (p. 377-387) for the entire story. Gould also said (p. 382) “So you pay your money and take your choice.” My preference is for “inordinate fondness,” probably because that is the way I first heard it.

8“Eye” will be considered to refer to the human eye, unless otherwise stated.

9It seems that the best way to identify an irreducibly complex system is to find a system that we do not understand how it functions or know of any smaller, simpler subsystems that could be put together to make the bigger system. Also you need to stop trying to understand.

10Intelligent Thought: Science Versus the Intelligent Design Movement. John Breckman (Ed.), 2006:43

11Unless the Bible is to interpreted literally then it is hemorrhoids, and fatal ones at that.

12Intelligent Design proponents may talk of a “Higher Power,” etc., but make no mistake, they do mean the Christian God of the Bible. No matter what they say it is all a smoke screen. Intelligent Design is about religion not science.

13This risks being a Just-so-Story, there being no evidence. But this explanation is not meant to be a real explanation or situation. This is a thought experiment meant to demonstrate how evolutionary theory can view a problem what the solution might be from which an experiment could be designed to test the hypothesis.