Darwinian evolution is the creation story of atheism. It is the tale of nothing becoming everything through an incremental, unguided process of random change and adaptation.
Yet despite its many logical and technical difficulties—not the least of which is explaining how nothing became a “something” to get the whole process started—the narrative has captured the imaginations of a wide spectrum of individuals, religious and non-religious alike.
Today nearly any article or television program, covering any aspect of the natural world, from the eating habits of chimpanzees to the dreams of humans, is sure to make mention of “our evolutionary heritage.” What’s more, phenomena as counterproductive to Darwinian fitness as homosexuality and altruism are increasingly being traced to some evolutionary advantage. It is as if to be taken seriously as a researcher, writer or thinker, one must pay homage to Darwin, no matter how tenuous the connection to the subject matter, or fatuous.
The charm of the tale comes not only in what it has to say about history, but in what it has to say about the future—the eternal struggle for survival will lead to change; change will lead to progress, and progress to perfection.
As the story gained currency, faith in a caring Superintendent began to be displaced by hope in an indifferent, impersonal mechanism of change—“Change we can believe in,” change we must believe in, if we reject the antediluvian myth and its Author.
It is no wonder that few phrases in recent memory have provoked as much comment, criticism and derision as “intelligent design.”
Since its introduction into modern lexicons, intelligent design (ID) has been called everything from “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” to a “Trojan horse” to a “sham.” And those are some of the kinder put-downs.
And ID opprobrium has not been restricted to the fever swamps of atheism. Educators, judges, politicians, scientists, journalists, and even Christians have logged withering comments about the science of design. But why the invectives over a non-sectarian enterprise that makes no claims about the identity of the Designer?
Although the proposition of intelligent design is modest—that certain features of the universe are best explained as the products of intelligence—there is fear that ID and science are mortally locked into a zero-sum game: For ID to win, science must fail. The fear is not unfounded.
Science, properly understood, is a systematic method of empirical investigation, philosophically open, for the acquisition of knowledge. It is the science, modern science, mid-wifed by individuals—Bacon, Ockham, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton—whose openness to an external Source of order, beauty and harmony made possible the game-changing discoveries that led to the scientific revolution.
Science, as it has become today, is an investigative enterprise ideologically confined to naturalism, which holds that the material world is a brute fact fully explicable in terms of matter and motion, without appeal to external causes.
For that science, ID is bad news.
Like the pioneers of modern science, the ID investigator is not committed to rules of play and conventions of “good form” aimed at protecting the consensus view. He is free to follow the phenomena wherever they point, whether to chance, law, or intelligence, whether of the material world or beyond it.
Unfettered by the groupthink of the scientific establishment, he represents a threat to those for whom Oxford cardiovascular physiologist Denis Noble writes, “[Materialistic science] functions as a security blanket.” The security of their paradigm, Noble continues, is that “It avoids the need to ask too many questions, to stare into the abyss of fundamental uncertainty.” Yet sooner or later, that abyss will be encountered.
Over the last several decades, discoveries of the functional elegance and integrated complexity of the universe have made the materialistic underpinning of science increasingly untenable, leaving those so-committed to cede it all to luck or to some yet to be discovered final Law which, if found, would itself beg an explanation.
For instance, should an ultimate law be unearthed down that ever-receding shaft of exploration, it would not account for immaterial phenomena like thought, free will, creativity, and aspirations, except as illusions created by the chemical firings of neurons. Likewise, a meta-Law of the universe would neither provide, nor explain, the moral “oughtness” pressing upon the conscience of man.
If it could, humans could no more choose to violate it than they could choose to change their height or blood type. Yet not only do we violate it, we have feelings of guilt when we do, suggesting something behind Law, a teleology, a concern about humans and their social dealings—an intelligence. And that is bad news for another group.
Products of intelligence are engineered to satisfy the functional requirements of the designer. And like any engineered product, they provide optimum benefits when used according to their design and minimum benefits, to detrimental effects, if twisted and pressed into the service of personal desires or popular fashions.
Consider sexuality. According to the theories popularized by Freud, Kinsey and Hefner, sex exists for the fulfillment of personal happiness through the satisfaction of sensual desire, with pregnancy as a byproduct.
Even a cursory consideration of design shows that this popular conception has it exactly backwards. Since sexual satisfaction could be realized on a mono-sex planet and only on a heterosexual one could civilization survive past the first generation, it is evident, even through the prism of Darwinism, that reproduction is the purpose of sex, with sensual satisfaction as a byproduct.
Design suggests that the “machine” is not infinitely malleable as Darwinian theories would have it, but fixed with an in-built limit of “flex.” And that is bad news for social engineers who view humanity as an intermediary life form in the march to our utopian, transhuman future.
Although the outward, visible features of design can tell us important things about an object’s purpose, they are not always the whole story.
Imagine a native of a primitive culture happening upon a DVD loaded with Microsoft Office left by a modern-day explorer. The thin, flexible, perfectly circular disc of foreign construction would lead the native to conclude it was of unnatural, maybe supernatural origin. Yet nothing about the appearance of the DVD would reveal its rich information content, much less the purpose for which the information was intended.
The same is true of human beings. Although outward appearances may tell us a lot about human nature, there is much more than meets the eye.
Giving consideration only to the material dimension, humans share a genetic code that, while variable from person to person, is distinct from all other living creatures, both in its internal structure and in its external, visible expression. It is the recognition of human exceptionality that inclines most people to acknowledge the superior worth of a person over everything else; even another product of design, like a priceless work of art.
Yet many folks who would never think of discarding an irreparably damaged Monet, have few qualms “discarding” a person who is unborn and unwanted or who has been irreparably damaged through injury or impaired through the onset of age.
The design inference suggests that all persons—even the least-developed and most-infirmed among us—have intrinsic value, worthy of vigorous protections against forces that would threaten their lives and welfare. And that is bad news for the culture of death.
For those who have built careers, labs, and reputations on the shoulders of Darwin; for those whose investigative quest is driven by an ideological commitment; for those who want to make peace with “science” and appear reasonable to their peers; for those who are more concerned about protecting orthodoxy than in the pursuit of truth; for those whose hopes for the planet lie in evolution’s inexorable march of progress; for those who would litter the road to Utopia with carcasses of the unwanted, the disabled, the aged, and infirmed; and for those who seek escape from the deeper implications of human existence—intelligent design is bad news. It is very bad news.
Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.