Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Problem with Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design (ID) is a very popular religious belief and one that can sound attractive for those trying to reconcile science and religion. This philosophy argues that science supports an intelligent designer/creator because anything with order, purpose, or design must have come from an intelligent being, specifically the Christian God. This concept was created by the Discovery Institute, a religious think-tank that includes the goal to "defeat scientific materialism" as part of its foundation. ID was born in 1986 when "Creation Science" was ruled a belief system by the Supreme Court (Edwards v Aguillard). The Discovery Institute then replaced the words "Creation Science" with "Intelligent Design" in all their paperwork. Like Creation Science, Intelligent Design has also been ruled a religious belief system (Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District).

The whole argument behind ID is the idea of proving design, and in case you missed it, I wrote in-depth about why scientists can't assume design here. Proponents of the ID movement are in constant search for the irreducibly complex system - the watch among the grass, a metaphor originally proposed by William Pauley in 1802 that suggests that things that are complex cannot have come about naturally. The argument is that if you can't reduce it to working components, then it had to be designed. One of the most famous so-called irreducibly complex system is the vertebrate eye, the argument being that a "half an eye" would not be adaptive and thus couldn't have evolved.

Of course, the problem with this is that evolution would never predict the kinds of intermediary steps that detractors claim it would; evolution would never suggest a "half an eye," at least not the kind that they are thinking of. Sure, a "half an eye" wouldn't do any good, but a group of light-sensitive cells that can detect contrasts would (it's called an eye spot). It would do even more good if it was in a sunken area creating a cup, allowing the organism to detect the direction that light is coming from. And it would do even more good if it curved so much that it had only a small pinhole for the light to enter, thus creating a sharp image along the back of the eye. And even better than that would be fluid inside the eye that would sharpen the image. As it turns out, these steps are the evolutionary path for the modern vertebrate eye, and all have been documented in other organisms along with their evolutionary histories. Every single proposed "irreducibly complex system" has been explained using evolution.

One inherent assumption that ID makes is that the human body is perfect; we are the pinnacle of God's creation, made in his image, and our bodies are so complex that they had to have been created specially. The problem with this is that our bodies have some serious flaws (check out my post for some examples). Does that mean God is flawed if we are created in his image? Or that God couldn't make us without those flaws? Or instead does it mean that God uses natural laws in such a way that his creation comes out just how he wants it including some features that we might not see as perfect but that might not be a big deal from an eternal perspective and that might actually serve a purpose?

For example, childbirth in humans is much more complicated and dangerous than in any other animal. Whereas other animals can safely give birth alone and do so regularly, that is uncommon with humans, and it in large part has to do with the fact that we are the only bi-pedal primate. Our spines and pelvi were not designed to walk up-right, and as a result, the birth canal is much smaller than it is for other primates. That means that our babies have to be born extremely prematurely by animal standards, making them entirely dependent on their caregivers. Our children are the most vulnerable newborn found anywhere in the animal kingdom.

If the ID movement wants to find proof of God in science, then I suggest they start actually looking at what science, and evolution, tells us. Because the fact that our children are completely dependent on their parents tells me that the family structure is so important to God that he would have caused our bodies to have evolved in such a way as to guarantee a biological imperative be part of the Divine aspect of parenthood. Yes, it comes with other flaws like back problems and dangers in giving birth, but the ultimate goal far outweighs the minor problems. And the fact that both these pros and cons exist tell me that they were created through natural laws - divine laws, yes, but natural all the same. God could have created some other way to ensure that we gave birth to exceptionally undeveloped children, but he didn't. He used evolution to ensure that His children would have the most primal pressures to live and grow in family units.

The problem with the Intelligent Design movement is that they believe that God is either weak or a liar; otherwise, they wouldn't have to dismiss obvious and beautiful truths about the Creation in order to maintain their cardboard version of God. It is only those who feel threatened and weak who are so willing to defend something by rejecting the obvious. If God really did create this world, then what we discover about the world will only add to our understanding of God. If the truth that science reveals conflicts with the idea of God that we've created, then it is our idea that needs to change. God doesn't need us to defend him from truth; he needs us to come to know him by learning truth.

The truly scary part about the Intelligent Design movement is that they want to force their religious beliefs onto school children. They want to take an easily impressionable group of kids, teach them that science is the enemy, and that their cardboard God is the only true God, one who deceitfully created a world designed to lead us astray. Not only is this bad science, it's bad religion, and it's unconstitional. Only science should be taught in science classrooms, and since science as a field of study can embrace all religions and all faiths, parents can then teach their children their own religious beliefs at home and at Church instead of a state-run institution.

There is no scientific controversy about evolution; it is the foundation of all biology. The controversy only exists in the minds of those whose interpretation of God is so limited that he could not have created the world using natural laws, and the minute we start telling God what he couldn't have done, then we are no longer looking to God for answers but our own limited and mortal selves. It isn't evolution that threatens to tear down the temple; it is us.

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