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Intelligence by Design:

New movement presents alternative to Darwinian theory

Biologists might consider Darwin’s theory of evolution to be well- established. But Phillip Johnson considers it nothing less than a fraud. The Berkeley, Calif.-based lawyer has spent the past few years challenging what he considers to be the fallacies in Darwinian theory.
“Most scientists are fair-minded,” Johnson said. “But they deal with only a limited sphere – their own experiments and so on. So they’re at the mercy of the people who explain the ideology of the whole enterprise.

“The great problem now is that those people have decided they want to make war against God. They want to marry science to a materialistic philosophy. And they want to make sure that people who challenge that can’t get an opportunity to be heard and that the evidence that undermines their view will never be allowed to appear in public. That’s what we’re fighting.”

Johnson–along with William Dembski, a Baylor University professor who holds degrees in philosophy, mathematics and theology, as well as others in a new movement known as Intelligent Design Theory–are not concerned with defending a literal reading of Genesis.

Instead, they say that biology is held hostage to a nonscientific, philosophical idea. Evolutionary biologists only feign neutrality on religious questions when it suits public consumption, those thinkers say. Wedded to a dogmatic belief that existence consists only of matter in motion, many biologists rule out the possibility that God or the supernatural might exist. This bias in turn causes them to engage in wishful thinking and to ignore evidence for competing theories, such as Intelligent Design, which present alternatives to Darwinism.

According to Johnson, one example of fallacious thinking is the notion that natural selection can produce new organs or new species. Natural selection has been observed to produce variations within kinds of organisms–bacteria resistant to penicillin, for instance, or changes in body size. But this is not the same thing as producing a new species.

Another problem lies in the fossil record, Johnson said. Species appear there suddenly, not gradually. The few instances of transitional fossils that do exist aren’t convincing to critics of evolution either.

One example, according to Johnson, is the remains of mammal-like reptiles known as therapsids. Biologists point to slow transformations in the skull and jaw bones as evidence of these creatures losing reptilian characteristics. But Johnson points out that there are many differences between reptiles and mammals besides jaw bone structure, including distinctive reproductive systems. Similarities in skeletal features don’t necessarily mean evolution has happened.

Also, the failure to reconstruct a direct line of descent between therapsids and mammals further damages Darwinist claims, according to Johnson. “The notion that mammals-in-general evolved from reptiles- in-general through a broad clump of diverse therapsid lines is not Darwinism,” Johnson writes in “Darwin on Trial.” “Darwinian transformation requires a single line of ancestral descent.”

Other biological data – for instance, evidence that organisms share a common biochemical basis or that the physical features of organisms make it possible to classify organisms within groups – don’t demonstrate that organisms evolved from common ancestors. Actual evidence that these common ancestors once existed must be established, according to Johnson.

At the heart of Johnson’s criticisms is the conviction that random mutations and natural selection really can’t account for the marvelous complexities of nature – from the intricate workings of a cell to a human eye. The only explanation, Johnson argues, is intelligent design.

This is more than an intuition, according to Dembski, author of “Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Philosophy.” A new field called Intelligent Design Theory, he said, actually can establish with scientific rigor that some patterns or structures found in nature – for instance, those found on the biochemical level – have been designed.

To do so, Dembski said, three things must be established: contingency, complexity and specification. A pattern is contingent when it’s not the automatic product of natural laws or processes. A pattern is complex to the degree that chance can’t explain it, i.e. that it’s improbable. A pattern is specified to the degree that it displays the right kind of characteristics for design.

Something that meets all of these standards, according to Dembski, is a whiplike, microscopic motor known as the bacterial flagellum, an intricate structure that enables a bacterium to navigate its environment. Obviously, he said, such a structure is contingent – it isn’t the automatic product of natural laws or processes. It’s also specified. That is, only a certain arrangement of parts will enable it to function, Dembski said. Take away one of the flagellum’s 50 proteins, for instance, and the motor won’t work.

Finally, the flagellum is complex–that is, there is an extremely low probability that such a structure could be the product of chance. A quick glance at the flagellum’s structure shows why. If it needs all of its parts in order to work, how could it have come about gradually by chance as Darwinism would require?

Dembski takes issue with biologists who argue that natural selection has been shown to produce just these kinds of complicated structures by building on simple structures and functions to create new, elaborate structures and functions. This is merely speculation, he said, and unlikely speculation at that.

“OK, so you’ve got in your home a microwave, a telephone and various components, but you don’t have a radio,” Dembski said. “And you just pull these various pieces together and form a radio. Well, maybe you can if you have the right components. But you’re still going to need design to do that.”

Intelligent Design Theory has yet to be fully applied to biology. But when it is, Dembski is confident, it will show that natural selection can’t account for nature’s complexities any more than alchemy could show how to transform lead into gold.

In the process, new research questions will be posed, Dembski said. For instance, how can the effects of design and natural causes be teased apart? In what way is the design optimal? What is a designed object’s function? These are just a few of the questions researchers can pursue, according to Dembski–provided they can break out of the mental gridlock imposed by nearly a century-and-a-half of Darwinism.