Wednesday, April 11, 2012

ID and Descent Dissent

Michael Behe is one of the original scientists to popularize the concept of intelligent design in the last two decades. Darwin’s Black Box (1996) introduced the idea of irreducible complexity in living systems. Behe describes irreducible complexity as follows: “…a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning." He posits that an irreducibly complex system cannot be produced by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system because a missing part in a precursor system would make it nonfunctional. Full-throated, gradualistic Darwinian evolution is thereby called into question.

A large segment of the scientific community has attempted to nullify Behe’s argument. For example, in the Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District case in 2005 which overturned the school board decision to recommend optional student readings promoting the concept of intelligent design, the ruling judge stated “Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large.” A search of literature produced by naturalistic scientists reveals many similar refutations of Behe’s irreducible complexity proposal, as well as many loud denunciations of the general concept of intelligent design at any level. Such refutations are staunchly anchored in a naturalistic philosophical commitment.

Many well known theistic evolutionists echo the same sentiments. In The Language of God (2006) Francis Collins, self-proclaimed evangelical Christian, states near the end of chapter 9 that “…this ship (intelligent design) is not headed to the promised land; it is headed instead to the bottom of the ocean.”  Collins, along with many other theistic and naturalistic evolutionists, criticizes intelligent design as a “god-of-the-gaps” solution, that is to say, anything we can’t explain naturalistically must be credited to a supernatural action. Most ID advocates would characterize this view as seriously oversimplified.

Evolutionists, however, are guilty of many egregious “chance of the gaps” explanations. Evolutionist George Wald (1906-1997) said “When it comes to the origin of life there are only two possibilities: creation or spontaneous generation. There is no third way. Spontaneous generation was disproved one hundred years ago, but that leads to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance.”

If we cannot believe that living systems were intelligently designed and produced by a supernatural agent acting by fiat creation (divine decree) at some point in time, the alternative is to embrace naturalism. Such an embrace of naturalism generally denies miraculous intervention at any point in the history of our world’s living things. Some theistic evolutionists claim God, in some mysterious, unknown way, frontloads chance or random events to achieve a certain result down the road. Consequently, they appropriate the term theistic to describe their belief system, claiming their belief deserves to be held in equal esteem with belief in sudden, fiat acts of creation. They often deny their views amount to an embrace of naturalism. One might ask, however, how the two views substantially differ, especially with respect to living systems.

One of the liveliest issues of the day involves how the concepts of intelligent design and common descent are related. Michael Behe believes the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) is “fairly convincing” and he has “no particular reason to doubt it.” And yet, Behe investigates “several fascinating molecular machines” of the body, and asks “whether they can ever be explained by random mutation/natural selection.” Therefore, his concept of intelligent design may not have the same meaning as the concept of fiat creationism.

My view is that the common descent concept comes dangerously close to naturalistic evolution. Biochemist Fuzale Rana, Reasons to Believe scholar, who shared conference time with Michael Behe and others at the recent Wheaton College Science Symposium, frequently describes genetic commonality among earth species as evidence of a divine, common genetic template present in varying degrees across all species. Other scientists, such as Behe and many other theistic scientists interpret shared genetic elements as evidence of common ancestry. Rana’s interpretation is in keeping with the analogy of a building designer repeatedly utilizing identical blueprint features across a variety of his architectural productions.

Scripture uses Hebrew terms such as bara in Genesis 1-2 to signal the sudden creation of life that did not exist previously, including man. The fossil record reveals a number of “radiations,” geologically sudden appearances of new life forms which did not formerly exist. Accordingly, fiat creation events seem to provide a better explanation for our observations of the history of life than do proposals of common ancestry.