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Intelligent Design: scientists afraid of finding the truth?

By Brian Pollard - posted Friday, 21 October 2005

Should we teach Intelligent Design (ID) in our schools or just Darwinism?

Before approaching an answer to this question, it is worth considering the areas of lack of precision in the popular presentations of both these concepts.


Though Darwin titled his most notable book On the Origin of Species, his eventual contribution threw virtually no light at all on the origin of species. His credit rests on his development of the theory that life forms can and do adapt to meet new circumstances, within limits, based on his observations. To the end of his life however, he conceded he did not know how to explain the origin of life in scientific terms without an appeal to religion. And this should be of no surprise, since events at that remote time are clearly not subject to any scientific scrutiny and the best any of us can manage is reasonable conjecture and informed inference.


It has been those who followed Darwin who have extended his theory beyond its reasonable limits, by proposing alternative theories, for none of which is there any scientific evidence. An ardent Darwinist, Richard Dawkins, realised that “whatever is the explanation of life, it cannot be by chance”. Consequently, he proposed the idea, soon to become popular, that nature could “tame chance” through the progression of a sufficiently large series of finely graduated intermediaries.

Eventually, he claimed that “we shall be able to derive anything from anything else”. But Darwin had said that “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”. (Emphasis added). The term “Darwinian evolution” is imprecise in relation to any particular theory, but now refers to all those that exclude intelligence as a possible cause.

For many decades, some scientists have strongly urged an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection as the preferred explanation for the contents of the universe. Though they vehemently reject any suggestion of a designer for lack of evidence, they are happy with, but do not advertise, the fact that their position suffers a similar lack. But they are not only scientists, they are also members of the human race, and as ordinary men and women they must know that the universal experience of mankind is that everything that exists has a cause. No-one has ever produced any scientific evidence of anything having arisen without a cause. It is therefore reasonable to believe that everything was caused by something else or by somebody else, and unreasonable to believe the opposite, in the absence of evidence. Of Darwinism, Stanley Jaki was scarcely exaggerating when he said that it “among all major scientific theories is the one that claims the most on the basis of relatively the least”.

Intelligent Design

The relatively recent discovery of a certain kind of complexity, particularly in the areas of biological science, has rekindled interest in an old set of beliefs. It is not complexity alone that prompts the need for an intelligent explanation but the discovery of complex interactive sets of arrangements where, in the absence of the whole integrated mechanism, the individual components would have no purpose and no function.

Probably the commonest offered example of this kind of interactive complexity is the eye, to which critics have responded by explaining how an eye could have developed over time in relation to the stimulus of external light. But one sees, not with the eye alone but also necessarily with the occipital cortex at the back of the brain, and the unusual neural pathways connecting them by which stereoscopy is attained. Ultimately, sight occurs in the brain, not the eye.

The point is that the whole system of sight cannot work unless every part is present in its entirety, and it is not possible to explain how this could have developed step-by-step by chance, as it is impossible to believe that chance “knew” of the end towards which it was developing.


Further examples of ID are readily found, including the ear, a structure equally as wondrous as the eye, where hearing also occurs ultimately in the brain, and the mechanism of blood clotting. This latter is a cascade process, one step leading to another, all being necessary, but none being useful unless all components are present. Biology, then, at it most basic levels, displays an information-rich complexity which natural causes does not explain. The study of anatomy, physiology and biochemistry cannot be dismissed as non-scientific endeavours.

Probably the most compelling argument for ID arises from the known properties of DNA, which acts as a kind of molecular language, much like software runs a computer. Put simply, tell any computer expert that Windows XP just evolved by chance, and he would send you packing, as indeed, being trained to think, he should. DNA is an incredibly complex source of information, the kind of information needed for hands to move, eyes to see, hearts to beat, and so on. Indeed, the vast quantities of information contained in DNA is mind boggling. The amount of information in a single cell of the human body has been described as equivalent to several sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The information communicated is not random but loaded with what scientists call specified complexity. DNA contains information in a very complex and specific fashion, which leads to the conclusion that a “who” and not a “what” created this genetic language. Natural forces alone cannot account for the high information content of DNA. Chance cannot account for it. A reasonable rational mind demands that intelligence be involved.

Some problems arise for those who would reject the inclusion of a designer into the discussion. The first is that ID has not been developed by unscientific religious fundamentalists who simply disagree with Darwin, but by fellow scientists. In fact, ID gained prominence due to the work of such figures as Phillip Johnson, a Harvard-educated law professor at the University of California, Berkeley; Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University; William Dembski, a mathematician with two PhDs who directs an information theory research group at Baylor University; and Steve Meyer, a philosopher of science at Whitworth College in Washington state. They and others have led the dissemination of evidence showing that much of the physical universe exhibits unmistakable characteristics of design. They have done this to indicate that Darwinian theory has critical defects, whereby it fails to explain this new knowledge. Their work has been criticised but their case has not been answered.

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About the Author

Brian Pollard is a retired anaesthetist, who, after 30 years, founded and developed the first full-time palliative care service in a teaching hospital in NSW, at Concord. He has taken an active interest in bioethics and been engaged in many of its debates.

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