[The following is a loooonng response I gave to someone who asked how I would do it if I could make an introduction to some students on the controversy of Intelligent Design theory, as contrasting with Natural Selection. Plus a few apostrophes and a smattering of bold. I found it helpful for myself to articulate it, so maybe this would be helpful in clarifying one way or another your own thoughts. Feel free to share those by the way.]
I’d feel unprepared for the challenge, because admittedly I am not a science major. How can I dissect the work that’s out there? However, neither are most people. That means they are already taking the mainstream scientific view on the basis of faith not understanding.
So I think that’s where I’d start. It would be important to start by getting the students to look outside their educational perspective. In any educational program, the instructors cannot teach all perspectives equally. A cohesive structure must be followed. That’s fine, but realize that you have not been given each perspective fully.
Further, understand that we all approach everything with prejudice. Rodney King could be a good example. From the video which everyone saw, the cops look like thugs. But many cops watching the video assumed there was a precipitating string of events. That perspective looked alien but when all the facts came out, the actual cops involved were exonerated.
Likewise, most students have learned for more than a decade of their life, plus every star trek episode, discovery channel show, etc . . . that intelligent design is fringe and inherently unscientific. Just realize that you have probably never earnestly considered its perspective. In fact the Non-Intelligent design view is actually the minority perspective if you look at it as a spectrum. For example, 85% of the world believes in a god, who either directly created or indirectly created the universe.
Of course, one could argue that a lot of the world’s population is “uneducated”, and further that “intelligent design” is usually meant more narrowly as the alternative theory to natural selection rather than the broad premise that there’s a deity who somewhere in ancient past was involved with forming of the universe.
Just by way of understanding what Intelligent Design means–it does not even mean that evolution does not take place, it means that evolution if/when it occurred was directed toward a design rather than being random.
The point is that denying ANY intelligent design is the outlier view, not the norm as one might expect. And further, there are a considerable number of past and present scientists who hold to intelligent design or at least are skeptical of purely natural development. For examples in the present; mathematician, David Berlinski (secular jew); biochemist Michael Behe; Michael Denton; biologist PH.D John Corrigan; Dr. Steven Meyer.
Now name dropping isn’t evidence. In fact, some of those names will readily get you google accounts ‘discrediting’ them. Though I would point out claiming something is discredited does not make it so. And you would really have to have your own Ph.D in that area to look at it and understand the arguments for and against. My point is that there is another perspective out there; there is dissension.
And that is because scientists are human. In fact, a credentialed proponent of purely natural processes discrediting another credentialed scientist who holds intelligent design, actually proves this point. Because both received their credentials from established universities, they both have proven knowledge of the same facts. And yet they come to different conclusions on the evidence. How is that possible if they have the same facts and science is the same for everyone?
Because science is interpretation of fact by human beings. Humans are not dispassionate machines, they come to a subject with emotion and bias just like you. You can waste time on whether that is good or bad, but it is there. And this is provable outside of ID vs NS. How does science progresses? When Einstein came along and presented his theory (being the uneducated man that he was) did the other scientists immediately said “Of course! That’s obvious!” No, there was resistance. In fact, there are currently challenges to Einstein’s theories. Why? If all scientists have the same facts, why do some doggedly hold to theories even when they become unpopular? See, it doesn’t even have to be about ID vs NS. Scientists who are people have bias as well. This is important to understand. Scientists are not vulcans, even if they want to be. They have desire. There is a way they would like to see the world. Christopher Hitchens for example flatly said, that if the world were created by an intelligent designer “that would be just so boring.” Boring is not a scientific term. It is a human term of restless dissatisfaction.
All the same problems of humanity apply to scientists the same as anyone. They get distracted by things outside work. They get envious when another scientist out does them. They desire praise. They desire to leave a mark in the world. None of that is bad, but the point is what is presented to students is not fact, it is a conglomeration of human opinion about fact. That doesn’t mean all of it is wrong—though scientists will freely admit that theories are constantly changing about a wide range of things, which kinda suggests that they are admitting much of what is being taught is wrong, we just don’t know it yet. But it means ‘science’ is not infallible, if it were old theories would never have to be changed.
Even deeper down the rabbit whole, I would point to Stephen Hawking and many top-notch scientists of our day who say that our genes are responsible for just about everything (at least they could be) to the point that we have no freewill. This conveniently explains why otherwise smart people can be right-wingers (Al Gore recently voiced this idea that their genes may be to blame), and you may have heard of the God Gene (its currently viewed more as a genetic matrix rather than a single gene) which may indicate why some otherwise credentialed ID scientists are coerced by their genes to believe in a designer. My question would be, if such genes have such control . . . how could we know it? If they are genetically predisposed overriding ‘freewill’ to believe in a god, then isn’t it possible that the lack of such a gene or another anti-gene prevents you from believing in a god? This is why Stephen Hawking and others question whether you have freewill at all. If they are right, then a natural selection proponent can never know their anti-intelligent design reasoning is sound. In fact this was one of Darwin’s own doubts. By their own theories, the mind of the scientist must be suspect.
So . . . I would open with that to put back into perspective that things are not so certain as we are taught in school. There is dissent, and I would simply be challenging them to actually give ID a fair shake. I would not get too into the nitty gritty because the fact is, most of are not Ph.D’s. And though a Ph.D does indicate breath of knowledge, I think anyone of us still feels qualified to call bullshit on some of their claims. Can’t you name a scientific study that came out in the last couple years where you just said “There’s no way that’s true” and then later it was discredited?
With that uncertainty squarely in view, I would put to them some challenging questions. Bearing in mind that ID doesn’t say no evolution, it says not UNDIRECTED evolution. It would be easy and fun to go after “how did life start?” Because there is nothing replicable in a science lad (ironically with intelligent design) that can create organic life from inorganic materials. That is key because according to big bang theory, the earth coming out of the big bang and cooling for billions of years would not have any organic material. And that is a big one, big enough that Richard Dawkins had to admit that one possible explanation was perhaps the earth was seeded with life by extraterrestrials.
But that’s been “overused” and someone might rabbit trail “Well, where did God come from?”
So I would start with something more contemporary. The Cambrian Event. In the fossil record the earliest layers show nothing and then BOOM! A ton of complex life forms. Not a slow buildup of complex and simple forms of life, but a veritable explosion of diversity in the sea and on the land. Most major phyla groupings appeared in a single span of 20 million years, which even in Non-ID circles is extremely fast. By comparison the change from chimpanzee’s and humans’ alleged-common-ancestor to chimpanzee and human is five million. Five million years from an already complex organism to schism the 2% difference between the two modern species. Yet . . . non-life formed all major body types in 20 million. Not just that there was diversity in the Cambrian time period, but that life doesn’t show up in one place but all over the earth. One might also ask why life exploded into diversity so fast in a pre-dominantely non-organic world, and then evolved at a much slower pace in a world that was then already seeded with life?
Second, the problem of compounding mutation vs. over hybridization. For example, certain things as best we understand can only function as an integrated whole. This is known as irreducible complexity. Some will claim this is refuted because some supposedly irreducible systems have been successfully reduced, but that only disproves the specific (and I would note they were not completely reduced). For example, suppose a dinosaur begins to evolve into a bird from amongst unevolved dinosaurs. To fly, it must grow feathers or large flaps of skin. Such skin or feathers actually slow it down on the ground, so they make it less likely to survive in the same conditions as its unevolved cousin. Further, it has to be lighter, a bird’s bones are hollow and its muscle adapted for flying. But a dinosaur that cannot yet fly that is weighed down with skin and feathers, but has weak muscles or weak bones is theoretically unsuitable to survive. Now, evolution can explain this by saying that certain evolutionary boundaries have to overcome in a small leap. Or say that those disadvantages actually were advantageous for a time period—this is hard to imagine for something as complex as a heart. How long do you think you live with a heart that doesn’t work right? Some things do seem to be reducible (a cat can adapt without a tail), but others like your heart have a very narrow margin of tolerance for defect.
So suppose your dino-bird does make that leap forward. It is born adapted enough to fly or perhaps like a very-lucky chicken at least dart along the ground rapidly enough to survive. It is obviously, very different from its ancestors, right? Well, tigers and lions or donkeys and horses come from common ancestors don’t they? Well, if you mate either of the two, the result is sterile. Their genes are incompatible, and if they manage to have an offspring it is either weak and likely to die, or it is strong but when mated with another half-breed the offspring reverts toward the original species.
So now figure the odds for yourself: A species has to make a dramatic leap (whether a dino to a bird, or a simple non-heart creature to one with even a simple heart, heck a ‘simple’ cell of past mythology to a cell of modern understanding). But not only make the leap, but they must land in a place where that leap actually benefits them. A dino could become a bird, but a dinos prey might be more than a match for a bird, after all the dino ancestor evolved those big bones and muscles for a reason. Supposing it did, the new species then has to find a mate that is genetically close enough in the same geographical space and time, to produce a viable offspring that won’t fall back to one of its grand parents, won’t have genetic complications that are fatal, and yet . . . without losing so much genetic diversity that you get the affects of inbreeding.
If going the other route, where these handicaps were overcome by behavior or useful in an unimaginable past, then for every species there should be a plethora of missing links, but obviously they are missing. Darwin realized these gaps and they have little closed since his time.
That was perhaps why Harvard Professor Jay Gould received such acclaim for proposing the leaping forward evolution which does away with the need for transitional intermediaries. But that leads you back to needing a simultaneous breedable pair with like mutations, without over inbreeding.
And I would especially stress in this leapfrog of evolution, for every one that worked you have to deal with millions of years of ones that didn’t work. Notice also, that the genes we now know have some repairative ability. As such through the generations, especially when infused with fresh but like-kind DNA, the result is an organism that protects the baseline. If more evolved Jane mates with less evolved Jim, Jane Jr.’s odds of carrying the beneficial mutation are lessened. Jane Jr. unless she mates with a brother is then also more likely to mate with a less evolved neighbor like from Jim’s stock, and thus the genes by diversity sort themselves back to the baseline. In other words, nature favors non-mutation. Which is obvious to any animal breeder.
Notice in experiments where they attempt to progress mutations, they do it in closed systems. They have this bacteria in a beaker only in contact with their own kind, for generations to see what comes out. Why? Because interbreeding with the other strains will tend the result back to its origin. And it is in this artificial DESIGNED situation that they generate mutations (again usually harmful). So in addition to landing good mutations without being overcome by inbreeding problems, you also need isolation from interbreeding with the less evolved. So you can’t have one pair of breedable leapers, you need a whole community. Now you could argue that geographics could produce an isolated community and exposed to the same stimuli the whole community would tend toward that mutation with increasing regularity as they interbreed. But the point is this requires yet another variable to enable, another variable to overcome.
My Third item for discussion would be to revisit the earlier mention of the God Gene. When NS proponents bring it up, it is by way of explaining why some people hold to faith when there is “so much” evidence to the contrary. It’s an explanation for a mental disease. Now, while Stephen Hawking seems to believe that the totality of your genes controls every aspect including thought (as opposed to any one gene), others believe this gene only predisposes you toward spirituality. And not even faith in a god in particular but faith in general, even in humans. So it could be more of a faith gene than a god gene.
Though this is used as rational for the religious defect, again there are two ways to look at it. If there is a god, and god wanted some kinds of relationships with people (as 85% of the world’s population believe), then wouldn’t having such a genetic framework be expected? The fact that not everyone has this framework would not discredit this, as there are people without the genes who still believe. It only speaks of disposition, not choice. Thus, anyone could believe. All it would mean is that for some it is easy to believe. Just as if there is a violence gene it is hard not to be violent, but it can still be done. But if there is an intelligent designer who wanted some level of interaction with its creation, then the idea that anywhere near 85% of people are predisposed to believe in such a designer without actually needing it to be proven, is a positive evidence not a negative.
But, because I have a great imagination, I can think of naturalistic reasons why such a faith gene would exist. Suppose Jim was a powerful specimen but had this faith gene and thus believes in some intangible good potential if not an actual god. Jane might get near Jim because he is powerful, but unlikely to be a threat. His irrational belief makes him desirable as a mate as he will sacrifice for others including Jane. Jane mates with Jim and the faith gene gets passed on. Others tend toward this group because it tends to be less threatening, thus faith favors community and community favors the spreading of ones own genes. Furthermore, inheriting the faith gene leads to personal increased survivability. As we see in animals and humans, stress is detrimental to physical health, including reproduction. Irrational faith in a future goodness that justifies present sacrifice is an effective and widespread way to deal with stress. Thus those with the faith gene (and non-gene holders who act like they have faith) live longer, healthier, and are more reproductive. Not only that it makes them more adaptive because whatever happens to them “is for our good, ultimately.” Over time those who believe, see the ‘blessing’ in their lives over the unbelievers and have enough rationality to say that some unseen force must be acting on them for good. Why else does Bob-Unbeliever in the same environment not fair as well as Jim and Jane? This easily fits the naturalist model.
However, if that is the case, 85% of the worlds population shows including all faiths that this irrational belief in a nonexistent being or even force which is by definition not natural, is a strong survival trait. As such, if it were true, it is this faith (though misplaced) which betters not only the individual, but society and even the global society. Even if the theists are wrong and their worldview is more gene than intellect, then it is the healthier worldview. Thus believing in a completely natural cause-effect world is detrimental to your health. The ID world view is in fact good for you. If the non-ID/atheist world view could do the same, and the faith gene were responsible for faith which lead to rampant religious wars (big if), then shouldn’t the atheist world view after millions of years have come to dominate?
Evolution seems to say that the faith gene to this day is more powerful. If we are trying to be naturalistic, then belief in the supernatural is a survival trait.
My fourth item, whichever way you fall on the last one (there is a god so having a god gene is a no brainer, or faith genes are predominant survival trait) the conclusion of either is that a world view that includes the supernatural is more beneficial than one without. Nature itself rewards faith. My fourth item would be to challenge science itself. First, let’s give it a little shake. Understand that science as understood today, as a quest for natural explanations to the world is new. Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Morse, Joule, etc., did not see the natural and supernatural in conflict. They believed the natural world was the expression of the supernatural. Studying nature revealed truth about God.
So understand the founders of modern science considered both the natural and supernatural. Which is rational, because IF there were a god who did actually create then the world you see could not be simply explained by the things in it. It would in fact, if science is searching for how things work, be UNSCIENTIFIC to exclude the supernatural from consideration. Richward Dawkins concedes this backhandedly, when he says that aliens might have seeded life on earth. Modern Purely-Natural Science has not explained life, so Dawkins has to concede the possibility of something outside local nature. Of course, that just moves the debate to some other planet, but the point is he is admitting that purely natural means cannot yet explain how life began on an inorganic world. And this lack of explainibility actually points to the supernatural.
So the 4th item would be for the students to understand modern science refuses to open all the doors, so rather than being a quest for knowledge or a true study, it is a study that will only consider what already fits inside it. ID then is in fact more science than modern science. Modern science is the acceptance of bias.
For example, if I set up a row of fallen dominoes and ask you what happened. Your logical conclusion would be that a row of dominoes fell, each knocked over by the preceding, but in fact the truth is that I set them that way. By considering only visible evidence, you have excluded the truth. Likewise, IF there was a god, modern science would be unable to determine it. Think about this, if you ask what caused the big bang, what does ‘science’ say (notice the phrasing lends itself to the belief the science is its own unified spokesperson instead of a diverse group of scientists with many agreeing and disagreeing opinions): science puts out the idea that the universe popped into being (I read this in discovery magazine) from subspace foam. And this happens regularly, but it’s only by chance that ours has not dissolved.
Is there any way to test this at all? Not unless you have something from the previous universe or outside the universe. How could you even guess at the rules that apply outside the universe when during “planck’s” time in the theoretical big bang, the known rules did not apply. The rules didn’t apply then, but we can guess at what the rules are outside the universe entirely?
The point goes back to bias. Naturalistic science assumes a natural cause, therefore IT HAS TO ASSUME that whatever came before was a natural cause. And before that? No idea, but it was natural. Wow . . . that sounds a lot like God has always existed . . .
Now you see my point. See we’re having a debate about an already running system, with enormous complexity, and debating over how it began. What you see today is governed by your assumed premise for the beginning. If the universe could begin completely naturally like an engine assembling itself and starting without assistance, then naturally it can continue as such. But once you realize that beginning is completely unprovable and therefore 100% faith based and not on empirical evidence, then you have to ask why is it more BELIEVABLE than an intelligent being brought this otherwise random universe into being with purpose? If it can come into being on its own, and become infinitely complex, with what intuition tells you looks like design, then certainly it must be as plausible that a supreme being did it? If you look at the simple Venus de Milo and do not see an accident of erosion, seismic activity, lightning, and maybe a couple hundred bores sharpening their tusks on a rock, why do you look at a living breathing creature and say “random chance”?
Once you see modern science is as much a faith as any self-described faith, at that point, you can truly be scientific and ask is this faith, where universes pop from foam by chance and then produce all varieties of life from millions of years of rain on rocks, more believable than a faith that says an all-powerful being outside of the universe created infinite complexity by intelligent design and purpose? Since the beginning cannot be explained and a supreme being is equally plausible then, you look at the dominoes and say, maybe it was laid that way and didn’t fall at all. Does that fit what you see?
And that’s really where I would want to get to. Does this prove Intelligent Design? No more than random nature is proven. In a sense, I’m saying the very debate is meaningless, but I do believe the question is important. By understanding the limits of modern science, the student can be free to look into the question for themselves. It frees them to consider both points of view. After all, does the credentialed naturalist science understand math better than the ID scientist? Can they not both work an equation? Does the ID not know how to use a microscope? See we’re debating the past, but in the here and now, they both agree. We’re being told to discount the ID-er even though he or she can do the same work in the present. After all, many of the founders of modern science were themselves ID proponents. The modern world was started by ID-ers. And we discount them and their world view based on opposing conjecture about the past, which does not predict anything better. Both views encompass the present results.
So I don’t believe anyone is convinced or unconvinced based on ‘science’ since the premises determine the conclusion. But again going back to the faith gene, life is statistically lived longer, more healthy, more productive, and more generous if it is one of faith. The reason to debate ID vs NS in my opinion, is that accepting NS coaxes people to close that door of faith in favor of a purely naturalistic viewpoint which has been shown harmful to the individual and society.
It is the seeking that is important and non-ID science tells us not to consider supernatural possibilities, despite the fact that we all inherently do it. Modern science fragments the human experience into compartments. You see a flower and intuitively think it’s beautiful, modern science tells you that’s just an illusion, a mental malfunction, derived from the smell which triggers . . . the perception of rotting meat, and the color is bright which suggested the presence of water which was important to your ancestors. This food tastes delicious, it gives me joy to eat it . . . joy is just an illusion, an emotional response where your brain is rewarding your decision to take in certain nutrients. Wow, the stars are magnificent tonight . . . that’s just that your ancestors needed light to hunt or travel at night, you have artificial lights in the house now, no reason to stare at those stars.
Modern science robs the person of CONSIDERING the possibility that there is greater meaning. Because there are only natural causes and effects, those stars can’t be an act of love toward me. That flower is really meaningless unless it’s on a fruit tree and means fruit is coming. Or maybe this woman, really has a soul. Maybe she really loves me. Another person loving another person, not for what they get out of me but because they simply enjoy who I am . . . nope its just genes. Ask yourself, why does angry sex not feel as satisfying as loving sex? Mutual satisfaction vs ‘getting yours’? Sure it can all be explained naturally through some mental gymnastics, but the supernatural, extrinsic meaning is only being rejected based upon a flimsy premise where universes pop-into being because we have to believe it or else natural science falls apart . . . but does it make your life any better? Are you more at peace, more joyful, more beneficial to society, for believing that you are just random matter in motion without any real meaning?
So call me weak minded or bad gened, but I DO believe simply not wanting to be meaningless is itself a reason to believe that we are not meaningless. I consider intuition part of science. My need to be loved is part of science. My need for meaning is part of science. And if it’s not . . . then it wouldn’t matter anyway, I’m just doing what my genes tell me.
Well, that’s it. Maybe that doesn’t answer your question? But that’s how I’d approach it. As for specific religion, I’d leave that out. I do believe specific faiths will explain the world better than others, but I think just prying someone out of the box is enough. If they seek they will find after that. And I think it is the quest that will do the convincing more than any lecture or church service ever will.