Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Intelligent Design vs. Evolution - A Scientific Debate or else?

Lead: Ashlee Cieslak & Matthew Lubicki


Summary by James Ryan


This discussion began by defining intelligent design and evolution. Evolution, being a scientific theory has concrete conclusions that have been explained and understood in previous classes. Therefore, it does not seem necessary to explain evolutionary theory. The intelligent design side of the argument does not have such a distinct definition and trying to uncover what exactly intelligent design is was a topic for a good portion of the beginning of the discussion.

Not all proponents of intelligent design share a universal definition of the theory. The overarching theme of intelligent design is that life-forms in the modern world are too complex to have evolved according to evolutionary theory. The complexity is too interdependent and delicately assembled to have come into existence by chance. Many proponents of the theory claim that the probability of modern life-forms coming into existence is so infinitesimally small that it is basically impossible. The fact that life as we know has overcome this overwhelming improbability is then explained by the notion of an intelligent design. It was discovered through the context of the discussion that the dissection and understanding of this title, intelligent design is a tricky matter. In simple terms it seems that the intelligent part of the title is indicating that whatever being or entity that assembled this complex system must have done so with intentionality. It was designed this way to work this way, because if things were different they simply wouldn’t work.

The human eye is a very common piece of evidence that intelligent design supporters use to validate intelligent design. The supporters claim that the eye is too complex to have evolved according to the Darwinian model. During class it was widely agreed that what is more likely is that the human understanding of evolution is not advanced enough to explain how the eyeball developed. The irreducible complexity is not actually irreducible but merely not capable of reduction by humans. How exactly did something as advanced as the human eye come into existence? From this definition came the mousetrap analogy.

Irreducibly Complex Mousetrap Analogy:

A mousetrap is a very simple machine. The trap consists of 5 essential pieces that enable it to perform its function, killing mice. If the trap’s pieces were removed or modified it would no longer be able to perform its function, killing mice. Therefore, the trap is considered irreducibly complex. Apparently this is analogous to the mechanisms of life-forms, somehow. There was much doubt about this analogy among the group. One of the most glaring missing links is the indeterminate functionality of life. The term “indeterminate functionality” is referring to the non-presupposed function of life forms. The mousetrap analogy presupposes the mousetrap’s overall function as a mousetrap. Say, the mousetrap was missing a piece, it may not necessarily be a mousetrap, but it still is something. What is to say that the once mousetrap must be a mousetrap and not serve a different function? Whatever something the object is, will be determined by its niche that it can find in the life-cycles and natural habitat around it. If this niche or function does not exist or cannot exist in the conditions around it, the object (if alive) would perish according to the indications of natural selection. Overall it seems that the mousetrap analogy is a very detrimental and narrow-minded illustration of the implications of life’s irreducible complexity. Just because we are incapable of imagining another function for the trap, or an alternative mechanism for it to work, does not mean that it is impossible.

After some debate about the notion of irreducible complexity the religious implications of intelligent design “theory” were examined. Intelligent design implicates that some supernatural being beyond our powers “designed” everything. Creationism implies that this supernatural being is in fact God and that it not only designed everything, but created it as well. Although intelligent design does not necessarily directly endorse the notion of God, it seems that whatever being had the capacity to design such a system must have God-like properties. It seems to me that intelligent design is not endorsing any particular religious idolatry, but it is most definitely indicating that Godly beings do exist. One must also note that the majority of outspoken proponents and fiscal supporters for intelligent design are either directly affiliated with religion, or consider themselves religious individuals.

An important factor in the intelligent design theory is the question of “How much design?” Is the entirety of the universe behaving in perpetual accordance with some original plan? Or perhaps the design is more of a framework outlined before the existence of the universe and everything is occurring within the framework. The distinction of how much design has serious implications about the existence of free will. Intelligent design does not necessarily rule out evolution. The issue of evolution is tightly knit with this question of “How much design?” Is evolution part of this design? It seems that given the overwhelming evidence supporting evolutionary theory that proponents of intelligent design should be prepared to accept it as part of the “designer’s plan.” Two types of evolution were defined and related to the intelligent design theory:

- Microevolution: Biological modifications that occur in genes over the period of a few generations. Intelligent design has a hard time disagreeing with this type of evolution, because it is readily observable in the world around us. One would have to be grossly out of touch with current scientific development to refute the existence of microevolution.

- Macroevolution: The evolution that would have to occur for a single-celled organism to evolve into a human. This type of evolution is definitely less-concurrent with intelligent design because it implies that mechanisms that are supposedly irreducibly complex evolved. Many intelligent design proponents also use the argument that this type of macro-scale evolution cannot be observed, so there is not definitive proof of its possibility.

The issue of quantum behavior also arose in the discussion. Quantum behavior, because it exists everywhere on a microscopic level, has macroscopic effects. These unpredictable quantum events raise question about the supposed closed mechanistic system that some believe to be in existence all around us. If there is an indeterminate factor to which these unpredictable events are acting upon, what is that factor? Is the factor naturally indeterminate or is the determination existing in a modality that cannot be perceived by humans? There was some correlation between this unknown factor and God that was discussed. This correlation or more so suspicion is a very common symptom of the unexplained. If we cannot explain it… it must be that God character up in the sky. Just as intelligent design it seemed to be understood by the group that when things cannot be explained at the present moment God is not usually a scientifically sound alternative solution.