Then the day shone bright and rounder til the one turned into two
and the two into ten thousand things, and old things into new
and on some virgin beach head one lonesome critter crawled
and he looked about and shouted out in his most astonished drawl...

This is my home, This is my only home
This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known
And should I stray into the dark night alone
Rock me goddess in the gentle arms of eden

Dave Carter, "Gentle Arms of Eden" from Drum, Hat, Buddha, 2000 BMI


I do not believe, even for an instant, that Darwin's vision has weakened or diminished the sense of wonder and awe that one should feel in confronting the magnificence and diversity of the living world. Rather, to a person of faith it should enhance their sense of the Creator's majesty and wisdom (Miller 1999). Against such a backdrop, the struggles of the intelligent design movement are best understood as clamorous and disappointing double failures – rejected by science because they do not fit the facts, and having failed religion because they think too little of God.

Kenneth R. Miller, "The Flagellum Unspun" , 2005 unpublished


As usual I will wade yet again into the deep waters of the public zeitgeist and hope not to be pulled under by the sharks. I decided several weeks ago that given the furor over Intellegent Design in the courts and in some school districts I should educate myself on the issue.

I attempted to come from an unbiased approach and read as much as I could on the subject from both sides. I did not rely on media interpretations but rather read the publications from the seminal leaders of the ID movement and analyzed them myself before reading the papers rebutting ID claims written by prominent scientists. I checked citations when I could and attempted to keep an even keel without biasing myself. That said I come from a scientific background which is both a blessing and a curse in this instance. A blessing because I understand the jargon coming from both sides and have the background to interpret some of the more confusing technical arguments. After all, ID claims to be a scientific pursuit so interpreting it as a scientist is expected. A curse because the scientific community is heavily against the interpretations of ID proponents which could bias my viewpoint.

First a bit about what I believe about evolution and science in general. I have always held that theories are theories for a reason. Science tends to create it's own dogma just like the church, but we should be warned that the "Flat Earth" was dogma for years until it was disproven. So, the theories we hold today should never be safe from the facts uncovered in science as it progresses. At the same time those facts must be heavily peer reviewed, logically derived, repeatable by others, and subjected to the full force of the scientific method or we risk losing the very base of knowledge from which we plan to further build our knowledge.

By the same token the "Flat Earth" was dogma rooted in religious belief which shows that science and religion have always been intertwined. I personally do not see science as an atheistic pursuit. I see plenty of room for the religious and philisophical questions and know many scientists we are religious. True, evolution does not give much quarter for those who take a literal interpretation of the Bible, but then literal interpretation is a relatively new phenomenon as well. Forsaking science, however, would leave us all Luddites, would it not? If you agree with the scientific method you must take your views where the facts lead not the other way around.

Here is where I stand on the issue of Intelligent Design. I feel that it serves to point out the numerous unanswered questions in our theories of the origins of life. It could possibly lead toward interesting advances in information theory in analysis of human designs. It serves as a needed gadfly to the scientific dogmatics who must shake thier own beliefs loose in order to cogently answer the questions raised by Intelligent Design. For that I think ID is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Does ID present reasonable scientific evidence of design? No, I don't think so. Does it refute the logic and evidence of evolution? No, although it has spurred scientists to find more evidence of evolution, which I think is a good thing lest we believe all of evolution theory a priori.

Should ID be taught alongside Evolution in schools? No, however, I have always thought that the way we teach science leaves students believing what they learn is written in stone. Even given our deficient ability to teach the sciences ID should not be taught. ID is not a coherent theory of the origins of life but rather, at it's best, a way of explaining away the gaps in our current knowledge by doing away with the entirety of what we do know about the origins of life. We would be better served by teaching children science as a process rather than a through rote memorization of 'facts' which are invariably obsolete when they reach the college level. We need more thinkers in the sciences and our current teaching system does not create that below the college level.

Here is why I believe what I believe. I will link to the sources I used when I can.

ID has two tenets, specified complexity and irreducible complexity.

William A. Dembski champions the case of specified complexity (here is the article I read detailing his theory). The idea is that the world can be seen as information and that life contains Complex Secified Information, information that is extremely complex and conforms to known patterns of design. He uses Fischers ideas of probability and turns them around to create a lower bound of reasonable probability for things to have appeared at random in nature. His stuff is really dense and I can't say I really inderstand his statistical reasoning. He appears to be turning the idea of p-values on it's head and then setting a "lower bound" which he says is a reasonably improbable level to mean that an event would never happen. I'm still not convinced that he's done that since p-values are predicated on what confidence you want to have in your decision and are fairly arbitrary. He doesn't really present any concrete data that 10 to the -150 probability is truely a lower bound but for sure that is an incredibly improbable event. He contends by his calculations that all cellular machinery are too improbable to have occured by "random chance" in nature. In this I think he is actually correct.

Dembski's error comes before he even worked his statistical magic. He assumes that evolution is unable to build things one piece at time and create this Complex Specified Information. It has been shown that that is possible and is really quite intuitive to me. Further, he assumes that the flagellum protiens must form 1) in the right place 2) at the right time 3) and configured in the right way. He misses the obvious point that protiens configure themselves to each other based on natural laws of molecular attraction and that in a cell these molecules would travel all over the cytoplasm and most likely configure simply due to cellular chemical kinetics. Thus the only probablility he should have calculated is that of them being created at the right time within the same cell. This easily is higher than his "statistical lower bound", thus ruining his theory. Further, if evolution is capable of creating intermediate stages of these protiens which work for other purposes in the cell (he believes this is impossible due to "irreducable complexity") the probability is much higher that these protiens would have come about naturally. This of course presupposes that Irreducible Complexity is a false theory which I will get to next. (I got most of my information here directly from "the Flagellum Unspun" which is a very well written piece that even a layperson should understand quiet easily)

The second theory of ID is that of "Irreducible Complexity". This hypothesis states that many functions of the cell (and other things as well but they have focused on the cell because the main proponent is a molecular biologist) are only functional with all the parts in place and thus natural selection could not have evolved them because they would have been non-functional and thus unable to be selected for. The example most often used is that of a mousetrap, which cannot function wihout all of it's pieces in place. On the face this is a very strong argument. The two main examples that ID proponents cite are the bacterial flagellum and the molecular signal cascade which causes blood clotting in mammals. Both of these they say are irreducibly complex and thus could not have been formed by Darwinian means. I would agree with their irreducible complexity. In their current form they are indeed.

This presupposes that we cannot find intermediate forms of these proteins. If these proteins could have had alternate working functions in the cell and evolved slightly over time to become what they are this would defeat the ID argument. It has been shown that proteins can play dual roles in the cell and also that proteins which are not a perfect match in the cell can also create new biomechanical processes (prions, which cause Mad Cow Disease and Chronic Wasting Disease in deer are a variant form of protien which are able to bind with proteins in the cell and create effects which would not otherwise occur, which eventually casues the disease). So it is well known that intermediate forms could be influenced by natural selection if these intermediate forms existed.

The proof came when the TTSS, a type III secretory system was found in some bacterial cells. It is used, basically, to pump toxins into the cellular membranes of other cells to kill them and not for motility as the flagellum is. The proteins of this TTSS secretor are directly homologous to those in the flagellum (i.e.- The protiens are slightly different and some are missing but they are in large part exactly the same as those found in the flagellum). This leads to the logical conclusion that this is an intermediate form of the protein which is serving a different purpose in the cell. Thus, it shows that this highly touted "irreducibly complex" protein machine can indeed perform another function in the cell without all it's parts and thus could have evolved, a direct body blow to the irreducible complexity argument. This protein machine, ironically enough, was discovered in 1998 and reported in 2001 as homologous to the flagellum machinery. Micheal Behe seems to have been asleep at the wheel as he was still touting the flagellum as a poster child of ID in 2002 according to his own blog post.

The clotting cascade has also been shown not to be "Irreducibly Complex". Dolphins are missing the first protein in the chain and yet their blood clots just fine. So, two of the poster children of "Irreducibly Complexity" have sustained what appear to be mortal logical wounds at the hands of science. (Again, most of my research came from the "Flagellum Unspun" although the bit about prions is my own spur of the moment theory which may be blasted away before it can grow, who knows.)

A couple of other things I find disturbing about the ID movement are that they seem to giving more and more ground to evolution and yet they think they still have an arguement. Take these two quotes in sequence.The first is from "Of Panda's and People", the first Intelligent Design book, published in 1993

“there is still no positive fossil evidence for evolutionary descent … Many scientists conclude that there never was a progression from one cluster to another — that each really did originate independently. This idea accords with the theory of intelligent design. Design theories suggest that various forms of life began with their distinctive features already intact: fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers and wings, mammals with fur and mammary glands … Might not gaps exist … not because large numbers of transitional forms mysteriously failed to fossilize, but because they never existed?”

Of Pandas and People, 1993

And then in 2002 by Micheal Behe from his own blog

"But how could biochemical systems have been designed? Did they have to be created from scratch in a puff of smoke? No. The design process may have been much more subtle. It may have involved no contravening of natural laws. Let’s consider just one possibility. Suppose the designer is God, as most people would suspect. Well, then, as Ken Miller points out in his book, Finding Darwin’s God, a subtle God could cause mutations by influencing quantum events such as radioactive decay, something that I would call guided evolution. That seems perfectly possible to me. I would only add, however, that that process would amount to intelligent design, not Darwinian evolution."

Micheal Behe, American Museum of Natural History, April 23rd, 2002

Sure sounds to me like he's given in that evolution happened and is now trying to make a desperate, currently unproveable and untestable, argument for a very subtle creator. Ironically this is exactly how many religious scientists believe so he has come full circle in his arguments and is now nearly arguing for evolution, not against it.

Second, this website has a very pointed critique of the drafts of "Of Pandas and People" which shows that early drafts used Creationism instead of Intelligent Design in the text. This makes it hard for ID proponents to argue that ID is not creationism in disguise.

Thirdly, this same site has a comment which I think is very well put. ID poponents would say that animals display the same characteristics such as bone structure and symetry because designers tend to pick from what they know has worked in the past. However, this comment points out that design can go the other way as well, taking things that work and putting them willy-nilly wherever they will fit. However, we see traits which are obviously based on heredity such as mammary glands and scales. So why then do we not see mammary glands on reptiles and scales on people, etc...? Here is the quote which is much better worded than I can manage.


Comment #50452
Posted by NelC on October 1, 2005 05:50 AM (e) (s)
Nancy Pearcey[writer of Panda's and People. (added by Jens Hegg)] wrote:
"Critics argue that if intelligent design created life, each major form should be completely different from all the others — the assumption being that the creative agent began from scratch in making each new design. But that assumption is unwarranted. By experience we know that when people create things — whether car engines or computers — they begin with one basic design and adapt it to different ends. As much as possible, designers try to piggyback on existing designs instead of starting from scratch."


Critics also argue that real-world designers will steal from anywhere. Whenever something novel turns up in the graphic design world, for example, it is rapidly redeployed across the board to anything that could conceivably bear it: newspaper design, junk mail, TV commercials, carrier bags, etc. If the primeval Intelligent Designer was anything like a modern human designer, the similarities would be bodged together across species and even family lines. So we’d expect to see things like birds with mammary glands, mammals with chromatophores, furry slugs with human eyes, and all sorts of chimerae. Instead, we see that the patterns of similarity — from the gross physical forms to the subtle biochemical details — strongly follow patterns of heredity. The only reason an Intelligent Designer would have to make his patterns of design resemble heredity would be if they were in fact heredity. Either that or he has the sense of humour of a eight-year-old burning ants with a magnifying-glass.


I personally see this as a pretty good counter arguement given that it isn't a testable hypothesis really. The facts would seem to counterbalance each other.

So, this is why I believe what I do regarding Intellegent Design. If you made it this far you deserve some humor. Take a look at this Onion article. I think it manages to skewer the ID movement in a really funny way that I hope even those who disagree with me can appreciate.